There are so many scams lurking in emails these days that it can feel dangerous to even check your messages. Between phishing links, viruses, and spam, the flow of junk hitting your inbox can seem endless at times. Fortunately, if you’re savvy enough, you can avoid any issues by ignoring these fake emails and moving on with your life.
Not everyone is as aware of the dangers of email scams, however. Some of us depend on our emails for business and rely on sending files back and forth in order to function. That’s exactly what hackers are looking for, though, and why they put so much effort into targeting your emails with malicious attachments that can compromise your entire computer.
Recently, these hackers and scammers have been trying a different angle to get into your system. They’re using modified Microsoft Word documents that unleash havoc upon your hard drive when opened — and worst of all, tons of people online are still falling for it! If you use Word for work, we’ve got the information you need to avoid this scam and keep your computer safe from harm.
How can a bad Word file harm my computer?
We’ve covered email and phishing schemes numerous times here on Komando.com. They’re extremely pervasive — in no small part due to how often people open their emails without thinking. That’s why hackers still employ the tactic for a huge amount of operations, making it one of the most popular methods to break into a target’s computer.
Recently, analysts at cybersecurity firm Watchguard noticed an uptick in a very particular kind of intrusion strategy. In a recent report, they outlined a sharp increase in malicious Microsoft Word documents being harnessed by hackers for email scams — with the tactic ranking number one in the top five most widespread malware detections.
The hack is able to function due to a security exploit found in Microsoft Word itself. This flaw, dubbed “CVE-2017-11882” isn’t anything new.
In fact, Microsoft has already released patches to address the issue. However, not everyone has installed the most recent Office updates. Without the patch, simply opening the file is enough to give hackers access to your entire computer.
The emails containing the file can also be deceptive. If you use Microsoft Word for work, you probably already send and receive lots of document files without even realizing it. Opening the wrong one without thinking can spell disaster for your computer — and potentially any computer on your network. This makes the rise in hackers using the Word exploit all the more alarming.
How can I protect myself from this Microsoft Word scam?
Keeping your system safe is actually not too difficult, in this case. To protect yourself, it’s only a matter of being extremely selective about what attachments you choose to open when checking your email.
These days, simply opening files without thinking is one of the most dangerous things you can do online. Taking time to check the sender, content, and filetype of the email and its attachments can potentially spare you hours of pain, and save you hundreds of dollars.
If you use Word for work, make sure to open attachments only if you’re expecting them from someone. If you’re not sure whether you should open an attachment, simply speak with the sender and ask them to explain what they sent you and why.
In the past, hackers have hijacked the email accounts of user’s they’ve tricked in order to further spread malware. By asking the sender about the file they’ve sent, this helps prevent any confusion or ambiguity on your part.
More importantly, try not to open emails from senders you don’t recognize unless absolutely necessary. Even in the case of work, emails are usually exchanged by familiar parties. If it’s from a stranger, odds are, there might be something fishy inside.
Until we come up with something better than email for business, work, and personal correspondence, hackers will be taking advantage of the medium. If you’re careful with your messages, they won’t even get the chance to do any harm. That fact alone is worth all the caution in the world.