Email Viruses - A Comprehensive Guide

Email Viruses - A Comprehensive Guide image

Do you ever get those emails that kind of look like they're from a friend, but they turn out to be a virus? It seems like every other day there's a new one going around. We've all been there — you open the email, and suddenly, your computer is covered in pop-ups. Email viruses are more common than you might think and can be very difficult to get rid of, so it's all the more important to make sure your computer is protected. If you want to learn more about viruses, how they work, and some tips on how to stay safe online, keep reading.

What Is an Email Virus?

An email virus is a type of malware that spreads through email messages and aims to infiltrate and infect your device. These viruses can be very difficult to detect because they often appear as legitimate emails. And, once the recipient interacts with the email in an intended way—be it by opening it, clicking on a link, or downloading an attachment — the virus is unleashed and infects your computer.

Saying that an email virus can wreak havoc on your system is by no means an understatement. Email viruses can do real damage to your computer, delete files, corrupt programs, and even render it unusable. In some cases, they can also spread to other devices on the same network, which can cause irreparable damage.

How Do Email Viruses Work?

Knowing how an email virus works will help you keep your devices secure, as well as teach you to spot an infected email from one that isn't. So, the first thing you need to know is that the malicious code contained in the virus is programmed to spread through attachments or links that are part of the email message. However, a virus email will not start infecting your computer until you've actually interacted with it.

In the unfortunate case of some form of interaction with a link or attachment contained in the infected email, the virus will start to execute and replicate itself onto your system. It will also try to spread to other devices on the same network. It will then start to perform its malicious actions, which can include anything from deleting files to displaying fake messages to corrupting programs. Some viruses are programmed to be transmitted to everyone in the victim's contact list, and they tend to spread rapidly.

How Are Viruses Delivered to Your Email?

According to the latest cybersecurity statistics, an incredible 96% of cyberattacks are related to phishing emails. Data such as this shows hackers are really successful in sending viruses through email.

Phishing is the most popular way of delivering viruses to users. It is a method where hackers send emails that look like they are coming from a legitimate source, such as your bank, utility company, or even Amazon. The email will ask you to click on a link or an attachment, and by doing so, the virus will be downloaded onto your device.

Malicious links can also deliver viruses. These are usually found in phishing emails, but they also might appear in legitimate emails that have been hacked. If you click on a malicious link, it will take you to a website that is infected with a virus. The virus will then be downloaded onto your system without you even realizing it.

Another way an email virus can be delivered is via malicious attachments. Usually, these are files that have been infected with a virus and are disguised as something else, like a photo or document. If you download and open the attachment, the virus will start infecting your system.

In addition to these 3 examples of email viruses, spam emails may also be dangerous. Spam or unsolicited emails that are sent in bulk can often contain links or attachments that are infected with a virus. It's important to be wary of any email that you weren't expecting to receive, especially if it contains links or attachments. In fact, statistics show that 94% of online attacks come from some form of a spam email virus.

Types of Email Viruses

There are many different types of viruses that can be sent through email and cause different levels of damage. Some of the most common types include:

  • Boot sector virus is a type of virus that infects the boot sector of a computer's hard drive. It is among the most dangerous as it often requires the victim to fully reformat their system.
  • Direct action virus is one that only runs when a specific file or program is executed. Since these malware emails act through the file it is attached to, once the file is opened, it will start spreading. This will result in the file becoming inaccessible while the rest of the system will continue to work normally.
  • Resident viruses are types of viruses that reside in the memory of a computer and can infect both files and programs. This type of email malware is extremely dangerous because it will continue to act even after the primary source of the infection is removed.
  • Multipartite viruses can infect both files and programs and are like chameleons because they usually behave differently depending on the device’s operating system. The tricky thing about these viruses is that they may be distributed in a number of ways, including by overwriting operating files and the boot sector at the same time.
  • Keyloggers are master thieves and aim to record everything you type on your keyboard. Once this spyware gets a hold of your device, it will start monitoring and logging the keys that users strike on their keyboard. This way, the virus collects personal and financial information, PINs and account numbers, credit card numbers, usernames, passwords, and other confidential data without the user's knowledge.
  • Polymorphic viruses are masters of disguise because as they reproduce, they change their appearance to avoid detection. They often seem like harmless files and take a lot of time, months even, to be removed.

As you can see, there are quite a lot of different types of viruses that can be spread through your email account. And unfortunately, they are all becoming more and more sophisticated, so relying on good antivirus software and spam filtering services is the best way to ensure you and your precious data are safe.

How to Protect Yourself from Email Viruses?

The advent of the computer virus has triggered significant changes in how antivirus programs are used to combat computer viruses. Over the years, they have developed a variety of ways to detect infections, malware, and other computer dangers. These approaches include:

  • Signature-based detection is a method of detecting malware email messages by looking at the unique signatures or patterns that are associated with known viruses. Antivirus companies usually have a database of these signatures that they use to detect and block viruses. It is not foolproof, however, as new viruses that do not have any signature or pattern associated with them are continuously being produced.
  • Heuristics is a method of detecting email viruses by looking at the behavior of the code in an email attachment. It can be used to detect new or unknown viruses that don't have a signature yet. It is also the method used to uncover polymorphic viruses.
  • Real-time protection detects viruses by scanning all files and programs that are accessed on a computer in real-time. It is the automatic protection many anti-malware programs provide. What this means is that any new or unknown viruses will be caught and quarantined before they can cause any damage.
  • Sandbox detection runs a code in an email attachment in a sandbox environment. A sandbox is a safe, isolated area on a computer where programs can be run without affecting the rest of the system. Antivirus engines that use this method can determine whether a program is harmful or not depending on the actions recorded. However, although this technique is useful for detecting new or unknown viruses, it is rather slow.
  • Data mining techniques are relatively new and detect email malware by analyzing patterns in email data. They rely on machine learning algorithms to find new or unknown viruses as well as pinpoint which emails are most likely to be malicious based on a file's behavior.

Best Practices to Prevent Email Virus Infections

In this day and age where personal data is worth its weight in gold, it is more important than ever to know how to avoid email viruses and how to protect yourself from them. Here are some best practices that you can follow to prevent email malware infections:

  • Never open attachments from unknown senders — if you don't know the sender, or if the email looks suspicious, don't open any attachments.
  • Only open email attachments from trusted sources — even if you know the sender, if you're not expecting an attachment, then don't open it. If in doubt, try verifying the source.
  • Do not open any executable files included in email attachments — attackers frequently use two extensions on these files in an attempt to camouflage them.
  • Be cautious of links embedded in emails — hover over links to see where they will take you before you click on them. If the URL looks suspicious, don't click on it.
  • Never download email attachments from untrustworthy websites — only download attachments from websites that you trust.
  • Keep your email client, OS, and browser up to date and protected.
  • Ensure the antivirus software you’ve installed is running properly and is up to date.
  • If you don't know which emails or attachments are safe to open, a good idea would be to get a text preview in your email service — content previews allow you to get a sneak peek at the content of an email without having to open it.
  • Back up your data regularly — this way, if you do get infected by a virus, you will not lose all of your important data.

By following these best practices, you can protect yourself from hackers trying to send viruses through email. However, know that even if you are careful, there is always a chance that you could still get infected. That is why it is important to have a good antivirus program installed on your computer or if you own an enterprise, a good option is to hire a cybersecurity consulting firm.


Email viruses have been around since the early days of email. Unfortunately, nowadays, they come in many different shapes and sizes with one goal — to infect your computer and steal your data. And although using antivirus software is a good way to protect yourself, it is not foolproof. Hopefully, the tips provided in this article will help you to be more vigilant about the emails you open and the links you click on.


How do you know if you have an email virus?

There are a few different ways that you can tell if you have an email virus. One way is to look for signs of infection on your computer, such as strange messages popping up or new programs appearing. Another way is to check the email itself for signs that it might be malicious, such as unusual attachments or links leading to unfamiliar websites.

Can you get a virus from opening an email?

Yes, it is possible to get a virus from opening an email but only if your email client allows scripting. It is also possible to get a virus by simply viewing the email in your browser, as some viruses can infect your computer just by being opened. Most email viruses, however, get activated only if you click on a link embedded in the message or open or download an attachment.

Can you get a virus from opening an email on your phone?

A suspicious email alone is unlikely to harm your phone, but if you actively accept or trigger a download, you may be infected. And, with over 50% of email users relying on their phones to check their emails, hackers are coming up with new ways to infiltrate smartphones every day, so if you do receive a questionable email, it’s best to delete it.

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