What are EXE files?
EXE in this context means “executable.” Executable files are computer files that launch programs and carry out commands when activated. In fact, some are even self-executable which means that they carry out their instructions without user intervention. You regularly encounter executable files whenever you work on your computer. For example, when you click on the icon that launches Microsoft Word, you are launching winword.exe, the EXE file responsible for loading Microsoft Word.
Some of the files that you work with may even be self-executing files such as compressed archives that automatically “unzip” upon download. Compressed archives are typically used to transmit large files or collections of files over the Internet. Because decompressing compressed files often requires special software and additional steps, many people opt to create self-executing archive files to make it easier on recipients.
Why are EXE Files Harmful?
Both of the examples above show you legitimate uses for executable files. However, due to their nature, these types of files are perfect for exploitation. After all, malware developers need a convenient host to carry their viruses, spyware, and other malicious programs and what better host than one that will automatically carry out the malware’s instructions? A common ploy involves sending an.exe attachment to an email message. When the attachment is clicked, the malware launches and carries out its destructive mission. The user may never know that that particular click just allowed a computer virus or spyware into the system. Meanwhile the virus or spyware will be doing its damage.
How to Tell the Difference between Good EXE files and Bad Ones
While casual computer users won’t be able to tell the difference between a legitimate and dangerous executable file, you can adopt some smart practices including:
- Never opening unexpected or unsolicited email attachments
- Only downloading programs from legitimate software vendors and trusted download sites
- Protecting your computer with current antivirus and antispyware software, preferably a program that blocks threats in real time
- Paying attention to file extensions. For example, if you receive a photo named with a double file extension such as FamilyPictures.JPEG.exe, this is a red flat that indicates that the file is potentially malicious. This particular ploy tricks users who have hidden file extensions from being displayed into thinking that the file is really a JPEG file when it’s not.
Preventing Evil EXE files from Executing
As with many things, the best solution is prevention. Preventing malicious EXE files from launching is preferable to allowing them to launch, wipe out data, steal private information, download additional spyware, send out massive spam email messages, infect other computers, and worse and then trying to cleanup the damage afterward. A combination of smart computing habits and good antivirus/antispyware software is a must. This provides you with two primary means of protection.
1.) If you stumble and fall for a malicious ploy, your antivirus/antispyware software will block the threat.
2.) If your antivirus/antispyware software somehow allows a malicious attachment through (this occasionally happens with brand new threats and EXE files that developers haven’t discovered yet), you won’t click on it because you know better.