Email Practices to Prevent Viruses and Spam

There are some email practices that will help prevent getting a virus from an email, and some practices that will reduce or eliminate spam.

Email Practices to Prevent Viruses

  • Keep your anti-virus program working with the latest updates as instructed on the Anti-Virus page.
  • Never open email attachments without first confirming that the email was sent deliberately by the person who appeared to send it. You can examine the internet mail headers to tell if the email really came from who it appears to be from. See the How to Check Email Sender page for instructions. Even after doing this it is still a good idea to confirm with the sender by telephone, in person, or possibly in a separate email to be sure they sent the email deliberately and a virus that they may have did not send the email.
  • When using Outlook, turn off the preview pane in the inbox. When the preview pane in the inbox is on as shown below a new email that arrives may be automatically previewed without the user making an attempt to open the email. In the past, some vulnerabilities have existed in Outlook which could allow system infection from malware to occur when the email is previewed in the preview pane. Therefore, I recommend this feature be turned off in the inbox.
    outlook mailbox

    The preview pane may be turned off in Outlook by clicking on the inbox, click “View” on the menu, and click “Preview Pane”. The preview pane in the lower right hand corner should dissappear and items in the inbox should appear on the right side of the Outlook window from the top to the bottom.

    The preview Pane may be turned off in Outlook Express by clicking “View” on the menu, and clicking “Layout” on the dropdown menu. On the Window Layout Properties dialog box that appears, in the bottom half of the box, uncheck the checkbox next to “Show preview pane” and click OK. The preview pane should be gone.

  • Use caution when opening email attachements even if you are convinced that they came from a trustworthy source. Rather than opening them directly, first save them to a disk. Use your anti-virus scanning program to scan them before opening them.

Email Practices to Elimate Spam or Reduce Spam

  • Always keep your primary email address confidential. Treat your email address as confidential as you would treat your home street address or telephone number.
  • Encourage your friends to take the same security precautions and email precautions that you do to prevent themselves from getting a virus. If your friends have your email address in your inbox and they get a virus, your email address could be picked up by spammers. Viruses can collect email addresses from the victim’s address book.
  • Use secondary email addresses to give to business or individuals that you do not trust to keep your email address confidential. If you get spam sent to your “junk” address, you can then change your “junk” address to another address to eliminate the spam. There are several ways to do this.
    • Use a free email service such as that provided at or to create a second email address to give to persons or organizations you do not trust.
    • If your Internet Service Provider (ISP) allows for more than one email address, have them activate the feature and use the second or third email address for your “junk” address.
  • NEVER post your email address on a web page that is publically viewable on the internet and do not allow anyone else to post your email address either. Spam crawlers can harvest these email addresses. Even though many webmasters use javascript to hide the posted email address, I expect this will not keep the email confidential for the following reasons.
    1. Outlook and Outlook Express can read these email addresses when you click on them and I expect if one program can do this, a spam crawler can also be programmed to do this.
    2. A human can read the email address and place it on a spam list. Even when the email address is hidden in a graphic file, someone could read it and add it to a spam database to have spam sent to.
  • If you are getting spam, consider using a spam filtering service. There are spam filtering services that require potential senders of email to prove they are human before allowing the email to be sent. The potential sender must come to a web page associated with their email and read a graphic image with distorted characters on it. It they fill out the form correctly indicating what the letters are, their email is sent. We will post information about these services in the products section of this site.
  • When giving your email address to a webmaster, always read their privacy policy to get some idea whether they would share your private information with a third party. I would still be careful unless you are familiar with the site since spammers will lie to you to get your email address.