Can You Get Malware Just From Opening Gmail?

By Kevin Lee

Cyber criminals are always trying to cause damage by sending malicious software through email, and Gmail is no exception. If you're unaware of potential dangers in your inbox, you risk harming your computer and spreading malware infections. Although it's possible for you to get a malware infection from opening a Gmail message, Google helps reduce the possibility of that happening by checking all Gmail messages thoroughly and alerting you of any problems it finds.

Gmail Scanning

As Google notes, every email service you use scans your messages as they come over the Internet. They do this for a variety of reasons, such as spell checking, filtering out spam and detecting harmful viruses. When you receive a new Gmail message, Gmail’s scanner examines the message's text content and looks for viruses. Your messages remain private because humans never read your email during transmission. Gmail's scanner also has the ability to scan different types of attachment files that may arrive with your message.

Email Attachment Risks

The Gmail scanner may discover some attachment file types that it can't process. When that happens, the scanner informs you that a problem exists. You can try to open the attachment later or disregard the warning and open the attachment anyway. Google warns you that you open attachments at your own risk if Gmail can't scan the attachment's contents. Malware that you get from attachments can not only harm your own computer but others as well if you connect to a network. Even files that are not official malware programs, such as Microsoft Office documents, can contain malicious macro programming scripts that may be dangerous.

Gmail Virus Handling

Gmail rejects incoming messages that contain viruses and notify the message's sender of the problem. If you have an old message that contains attachments, Gmail will prevent you from downloading those attachments if they contain a virus. Gmail's scanner also protects your Gmail recipients by scanning outgoing messages that contain attachments. If it finds a virus in one of your attachments, it displays an error message. At that point, you have the option to click "Remove Attachment and Send" to send a message without the infected attachment.

Other Safety tips

Google recommends taking a few precautions when you want to ensure that you have the best possible email security protection. In addition to scanning for viruses using an anti-virus program, ensure that your software applications are updated. Companies such as Adobe often release newer versions of their applications that you can install. Microsoft also releases new patches that fix existing security problems in Windows. Enable your operating system's automatic update settings if you’d like Windows to keep the operating system software current. It's also important to scan your hard drive for viruses, especially if Gmail detects a virus in an attachment you attempt to send someone else in a message.