Can you get a virus from opening an email?

Can you get a virus from opening an email? Luckily, the answer is no. However, emails are still one of the main channels for distributing malicious code, and we’ll explain how it’s possible below as well as show how to prevent getting infected.

Can just opening an email give you a virus

There were times when just opening an email could infect your computer. Specifically, there was a severe security issue with Microsoft Outlook. This vulnerability allowed emails to run JavaScript code, and it is how a virus could be downloaded to your computer without any action on your side. Even though the problem was addressed long ago, there is still a concern that just opening an email could give you a virus. 

Today, it is no longer true. Email clients are configured to display HTML, and it is similar to how websites work. However, just like in the case of browsing the website, getting a virus from email is possible if you perform some kind of action, such as clicking a link or downloading an attachment. These two are the main ways cybercriminals use to infect your computer. We’ll show you how to avoid viruses in your email further in the article.

What should be noted, though, is that there are some rare viruses that hide in pictures. So when you receive an email with an image, you may be infected by simply opening it, even without opening the image itself. However, these cases are indeed rare, especially if you use email clients instead of opening emails in a browser-based session. 

How to avoid viruses in your email?

1. Check for obvious signs

Always double-check the sender’s name and domain names as well as look out for obvious grammatical errors. These may be the signs of letters from illegitimate sources or phishing emails.


If you think that your Mac may be infected, check out this article on how to run Mac virus scan to learn about some tell-tale signs of infection and getting rid of it.

2. Never click on a link in an email 

It is the basic security tip. If you are not sure where the link goes, never click it. It is especially true if you receive an email from an unknown sender. Even if you think that you know the sender, it is recommended to double-check the address from which you received an email, just like noted above. Another great precaution is to avoid clicking buttons. For example, if you received an email asking you to log in to some service, it is safer to enter its address in the address bar by yourself instead of clicking the login button or the link in the email.

3. Do not open attachments

Like in the case of links, it is recommended to open attachments only from verified and trusted senders. It is safer, though, to scan them before opening because you never know if their email address has been compromised. 

4. Scan email attachments before opening them

Some malware is distributed as disk images that install malicious code when they are unpacked. These can be distributed as email attachments. You can use CleanMyMac X to check these by running a malware scan. Here’s how:

  1. Download, install, and open CleanMyMac X.
  2. Choose the Malware Removal module from the sidebar on the left.
  3. Click the Scan button.
  4. CleanMyMac X will now scan your Mac and compare what it finds with its database of known malware, including DMG files. If it finds anything, it will alert you.
  5. If CleanMyMac X gives your Mac the all-clear, you can quit it and carry on with your work. If not, click Remove to get rid of the malware.

CleanMyMac X also comes with real-time malware monitor that will scan your system 24/7 and notify you if anything malicious tries to sneak onto your computer. 

5. Make sure your macOS and apps are up to date

Hopefully, you know that timely updates are an important security tip. The thing is that cybercriminals use security flaws to infect your Mac. It means that the new versions of software and macOS can come with security patches that would make the infection impossible.

To check your macOS for updates: 

  1. From the main Apple menu, go to System Settings > General.
  2. Navigate to Software Update and follow the on-screen instructions to install any available. 
System Preferences - Software Update

To update apps, go to App Store and check Updates at the bottom of the window. Alternatively, click Check for Updates from the menu bar when a particular app is open or make sure that you turn on automatic updates in the app’s settings. 

6. Clean your mail attachments 

It’s a good idea to clean up mail attachments once in a while. It will save space on your Mac, and if there are any attachments with malware, it will remove them. CleanMyMac X can clean up attachments from Apple Mail and other email applications you might use, such as Spark. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X.
  2. Choose the Mail Attachments module in the sidebar.
  3. Click Scan.
  4. When it’s finished, you can click Clean to remove all attachments.
  5. If you’d rather review them first, click on an email application in the middle window and then on the drop-down arrow in the right window next to the attachment location (e.g., iCloud).
  6. Review the list of attachments. If there are any you don’t want to delete, deselect the boxes next to them.
  7. When you’re done, click Clean.
Scan completed in Mail Attachments module of CleanMyMac X

CleanMyMac X will remove all the attachments in the list that are still checked, freeing up disk space and eliminating potentially harmful files.

Bonus tips to keep your email safe: 

1. Use multiple email accounts

It makes sense to keep business and personal email accounts separate. If one is compromised, you can still use the other safely. You should also create separate email accounts for social media logins.

2. Use email aliases

You can create email aliases that hide your valid email address when you send a message to someone you don’t know in most mail providers’ settings. If you have an iCloud email address, you can do it in the Mail app on (Gear button > Preferences... > Accounts > Add Mail Alias).

3. Use Sign in with Apple

If you sign up for a service that supports Sign in with Apple, use it. That way, you can create a one-off email address that’s forwarded to your iCloud email and avoid giving your real email address to the vendor.

As we’ve seen, you can, in some circumstances, get a virus just by opening an email. However, it’s very rare and unlikely to happen. If you want to be very cautious, you should follow the steps above to avoid the infection. Viruses in email messages usually come in the form of attachments, such as DMGs, and links. You can use CleanMyMac X to scan your Mac for malware and also to clean up mail attachments and get rid of those you no longer want.


Can you get a virus without even opening the email?

In theory, it is possible. According to a study by Symantec carried out in 2016, a virus scan can execute malicious code when scanning an email. In practice, though, this bug is addressed by trusted developers.

Can you get a virus from an email without attachment?

The short answer is no. However, if the email contained a link with malicious code, and you clicked on it, you could be infected even if there was no attachment in this email.

Can opening spam email give you virus?

In the rarest cases, it is possible. But these days are gone, and simply opening spam email does not give you a virus if you performed no additional action (such as clicking a link or downloading an attachment).

How to scan email attachment for virus?

A basic virus scan is the best way to scan email attachments for viruses. You can use the Malware Removal tool that comes with CleanMyMac X to do it. 

Which email attachments are safe to open?

Generally, if you are 100% sure that an attachment is legitimate, it is safe to open. In practice, it is safe to open an attachment after scanning for malware and taking all of the precautions outlined in the article. 

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