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NEWS AT SEI
This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:Security and Survivability
This article was originally published in News at SEI on: September 1, 2003
You probably receive lots of mail each day, much of it unsolicited and containing unfamiliar but plausible return addresses. Some of this mail uses social engineering to tell you of a contest that you may have won or the details of a product that you might like. The senders are trying to encourage you to open the letter, read its contents, and interact with them in some way that is financially beneficial--to them. Even today, many of us open letters to learn what we've won or what fantastic deal awaits us. Since there are few consequences, there's no harm in opening them.
Email-borne viruses and worms operate much the same way, except that there are consequences, sometimes significant ones. Malicious email often contains a return address of someone we know and often has a provocative subject line. This is social engineering at its finest--something we want to read from someone we know.
Email viruses and worms are common. If you've not received one, chances are you will. Here are steps you can use to help you decide what to do with every email message with an attachment that you receive. You should only read a message that passes all of these tests.
The KRESV tests help you focus on the most important issues when sending and receiving email with attachments. Use it every time you send email, but be aware that there is no foolproof scheme for working with email, or security in general. You still need to exercise care. While an anti-virus program alerts you to many viruses that may find their way to your computer, there will always be a lag between when a virus is discovered and when anti-virus program vendors provide the new virus signature. This means that you shouldn't rely entirely on your anti-virus programs. You must continue to exercise care when reading email.
Use the checklist from Home Computer Security to help you make decisions about opening email attachments.
Lawrence R. Rogers is a senior member of the technical staff in the Networked Systems Survivability Program at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). The CERT Coordination Center is a part of this program. Rogers’s primary focus is analyzing system and network vulnerabilities and helping to transition security technology into production use. His professional interests are in the areas of the administering systems in a secure fashion and software tools and techniques for creating new systems being deployed on the Internet. Rogers also works as a trainer of system administrators, authoring and delivering courseware. Before joining the SEI, Rogers worked for 10 years at Princeton University. Rogers co-authored the Advanced Programmer’s Guide to UNIX Systems V with Rebecca Thomas and Jean Yates. He received a BS in systems analysis from Miami University in 1976 and an MA in computer engineering in 1978 from Case Western Reserve University.
This and other columns by Larry Rogers, along with extensive information about computer and network security, can be found at http://www.cert.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author's only and do not represent directly or imply any official position or view of the Software Engineering Institute or Carnegie Mellon University. This article is intended to stimulate further discussion about this topic.
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