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Keeping Yourself Safe in Email

April 19, 2019

Start with Caution

In the beginning, we had no light and little in the way of methods and tools to write, but today we have moved on to worldwide computer access and a very fancy 20th century invention called electronic mail. You may have heard of it by its more common “street” name of email.  It can be a wonderful and amazing tool, but also opens the door to all sorts of criminal attention. In order to use something as useful as an axe, an automobile, or an electronic email, we also have to practice using them in a safe and secure manner. Let’s start with a healthy dose of caution and skepticism.

Phishing

Phishing is an attempt to fool you into giving up personal information that can be used against you, such as your username and password or your Social Security number. These emails are very common and you probably encounter at least one or two every day. They rely on fear, hurry, and the need to respond to authority as methods to trick you. You will often see words and phrases like “urgent” or “your account will be suspended” to raise fears that cause you to respond without carefully considering the possible negative consequences. Fear is a terrible method of responding and the best counter to fear is to engage knowledge and expertise. Learn how to recognize phishing emails and how to respond to them. You can find out more at our phishing page.

Suspicious links

Another method the bad guys (we’ll call them bad, just for the sake of argument, let’s not tell the Philosophy department) use is to point you to a website that contains malicious software or malware. Malware is often referred to as a computer virus. Just like viruses, we can inoculate our computers against computer viruses by ensuring we have installed and updated antivirus software. You can also call or email the Information Security team at Angelo state (that’s us!). Ask anyone that knows us and they will tell you how much we like to talk about security. Please call us. Please. Our number is 942-2333. Ask for the “desperate to talk to people” people or you can check out the information we have about malware on our web page.

Attachments

Those bad guys are frustratingly persistent in their attempts to get our stuff. So, they also use another technique to trick us into revealing our information. They will rely on our trust and how busy we are. They will send us an email with an attached document hoping that we will be too busy or in too much of a hurry to be careful and we will simply open the attached document. It could be a PDF, or a Word or Excel document, and the body of the email will typically be short. Something like “Here is the invoice you were expecting.”If the email, the sender, or the attachment are unexpected or unrequested, please be cautious. The best response is to save the attachment to your computer without opening it and then scan it with your antivirus software. If you feel uncomfortable with doing that, you can forward the email to security@angelo.edu. We’ll take a look and confirm the safety and validity of the attachment, then let you know our findings. You can always call us or send us an email asking us about this process and how to safely handle emails and attachments.

SPAM

Wow, those bad guys. You have to give them points for embracing the virtue of persistence. One of the ways that they steal resources from us is by stealing our time and attention. Unsolicited marketing and advertising emails, otherwise known as that tasty pan-fried surprise meat treat SPAM, get sent to us every day. Angelo State University receives about 19 million emails a month and, of those, approximately 80% of them are spam. The IT department filters nearly all of those spam emails out, but the bad guys are clever and some of them make it through.  For those that make it through, we have a set of tools that can help you reduce the time that you waste dealing with spam. Please take a look at our email security page.

Email is an amazing tool that lets us communicate with people all over the world if we want to, even that uncle that no one wants to talk about that sends those emails about that guy, but email is also a path to you from the bad guys. The good news is that we have the ability to keep ourselves safe by exercising a little caution and being a little skeptical about emails that we receive. If you have any questions or would like to talk about any cybersecurity subject, please feel free to give us a call (942-2333) or send an email (security@angelo.edu).

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