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E-mail is a primary means for virus transmission, so it is important to take steps to reduce the potential for infection. In order to avoid infection via e-mail:

  • Do not open e-mail attachments or other files from unknown people.
  • Be suspicious even of attachments you receive from people you know, and scan them with updated antivirus software before opening them.
  • Keep your computer's antivirus software up to date and active.

Attachments are the most common agents of viral transmission via e-mail. Often a subject line will encourage you to open or execute an attached file, sometimes even under the pretext that it is a security patch. While executing an attachment is the most common way to become infected, it is not impossible, with certain feature-rich e-mail clients (e.g., Outlook) and certain security settings, to launch a virus simply by opening or previewing an infected e-mail message. Conversely, text-based clients (e.g., Pine) are much less susceptible to infection, though they can still receive and transmit viruses and viral attachments.

Just as e-mail is a primary means for virus transmission, it is also a primary means of propagating virus hoaxes. It's generally best not to pass on virus warnings, unless you have confirmed their content with an authority on the subject. See the resources below for more information:

Viruses and antivirus software

The Knowledge Base Viruses menu 

Obtaining Norton/Symantec AntiVirus at IU

Preventing viruses in Microsoft Outlook

Protecting Outlook from viral e-mail attachments

The Outlook E-mail Security Update

"Unsafe attachment" warnings in Outlook

Preventing viruses in other e-mail clients


Outlook Express 6

Outlook Express 5.0 (with Norton AntiVirus 2000)

Outlook Web Access

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E-mail virus hoaxes

Determining if a computer virus alert is a hoax

E-mail virus alerts

Examples of popular virus hoaxes

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