Safe Hex: A Layman's Guide to E-Mail Security

This document provide simple advice for users of Microsoft Windows on how to avoid contracting and spreading e-mail bourne computer virus' and other destructive and harmful software, sometimes refered to as malware. This guide is not an exhaustive guide to computer security, nor is it intended to be. This document should arm someone who has little understanding of computer security to use e-mail without problems and without causing a nuisence to other people.

The advice is this document is provided for free and while every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy it comes with absolutely no warranty.

Many beginner computer users believe that providing they run a virus scanner that they will be safe from all forms of malicious software. As many find out to their cost this is not quite true. Most modern virus checking software works by recognising malicious software by searching against a list of known viruses. Clearly such software cannot protect you from an unknown virus. Unfortunately new and therefore unknown viruses often spread so fast that they have infected a significant number of computers before the lists can be updated. This requires computer users to take a more proactive approach to e-mail security.

There are in fact several things that work together to minimise your chance of contracting a virus.
Each of the above may be a little daunting to new users so each topic is covered below in a seperate section.

Keeping Up To Date with Security Patches

Many viruses try to exploit well known bugs in commonly used software. By exploiting these bugs some viruses can be contracted simply by reading an e-mail rather than by opening any attachments. For this reason suppliers such as Microsoft issue security patches that fix these problems. Thus one particular important proactive defence against viruses is to keep these patches up to date.

Since keeping track of patches can be a little complicated Microsoft provides an automatic tools to keep your computers software up to date. This tool is called Windows Update can be found pointing Internet Explorer at When you first visit this site you will be asked to accept a security certificate from Microsoft in order to download the Windows Update software. You should accept this. Once you have done this you will be presented with a welcome screen.

Initial Window Update Screenshot

When you click on Scan for updates your computers will be examined and a tailored report generated.

Update List Screenshot

The report lists the number of patches, updates and other useful software in the left and column and lists any critial security updates in the right hand column. Clicking on Review and install updates will show your report in more detail.

Final Report Before Installation

When you click on Install Now this will start the process of installing the updates.

Note: After you have clicked on Install Now the computer is likely to ask you to Restart it. After you have restarted you should visit Windows Update again since in some cases Install Now is unable to install all the vital patches at once.

You should visit Windows Update regularly, perhaps even once a week, to check if there are any new updates available.

Ingoring Executable E-Mail attachments


Running a Virus Checker


Contacting the Author