I think we can all agree that safety is important on the internet. You’ve installed an anti-virus and firewall program. You don’t click on weird links. You try to check everything out before you download it. You’re safe? Right?
Unfortunately, truth is, there is no 100% foolproof method for keeping your computer malware free and secure.
I don’t mean to alarm you. That wasn’t my intention. I also don’t want you thinking you don’t need an anti-virus program or firewall. Seriously, you don’t want to make it THAT easy for hackers to access or install bad stuff on your computer, do you?
Yet, there is one setting on your computer that makes it easy for anyone to trick you into clicking something you might not want to click. But, I’ll get to that setting in a minute.
First, I need to explain something important about the way computers work.
Every file on your computer has a name, and that name has two parts. The first part of the name is the title of the file. The second part is known as the extension (or file extension) and that tells you what type of file it is.
Let’s say I have the following file on my computer:
In this example, Photo is the title of the file, and JPG is the extension.
It is not a good idea to change (or delete) the file extension. Windows uses the extension to tell what kind of file it is, which programs can open it, and how it should be formatted.
Now, I can easily change the first part of the File Name to be anything I want. Chances are, I’d give it a more descriptive title. That way, I can tell my most recent headshot photo from that photo I took at the Office Christmas Party last year.
For the most part, I can call it whatever I want – as long as I don’t use certain characters, like either of the slashes, the question mark (?), the percent sign (%), among a few others. If I try to use one of the restricted or forbidden characters, it’ll warn me.
They are restricted because Windows (as well as most other operating systems) use for specific purposes. For example, I can’t use a question mark because Windows uses that character as a single character wildcard. (A wildcard is a character that doesn’t represent a particular character. So, if I were to do a windows search for ?uck – my results might include buck, duck, yuck, and a word I can’t use if I want to keep this post PG-Rated. But, I wouldn’t find truck, because the question mark only represents one character, not two.
But, there are some reserved characters that I can (and many people do) use in filenames. The period (or dot) is one of them. The period was used to represent a space back in the pre-windows days, and technically it still does. But, it is also used to separate the title portion of the file name from the extension. If a filename has more than one dot, only the final dot is used to denote the extension, while all the others are just periods.
Where The Problem Lies
Remember earlier I said there was a default windows setting that could trick you? Here it is: By default, Windows Explorer hides file extensions. So, when you browse through files on your computer, all you see are the file names, not necessarily the extensions.
The reason Microsoft did this was to prevent users from accidentally changing or deleting the file extension, especially when they rename or save files. It’s easier to do than you would think. So, it hides the extensions all together.
The reason that could be a problem? It’s simple – anyone can easily confuse one type of file with another if they can’t see the extension.
If someone wanted to trick me into clicking a malware containing file, they could easily name the file photo.jpg.exe … So, using the default Windows settings, all I would see was photo.jpg because the .exe part is hidden. Remember, only the last dot tells the computer what type of file it is and all other dots are just dots. And, since an EXE file is a program (not a photo) if I were to try to open the “picture”, I just accidentally ran a program I didn’t intend to run.
So, How Do I Fix This?
First, open My Computer (or, any folder really) using Windows Explorer.
On the little blue bar towards the top of the window, hit organize, then click Folder and Search Options.
Navigate to the View tab by clicking on it.
What you are looking for is a box with the text Hide Extensions for Known File Types. It should be toward the top, but you might have to scroll down a little bit to find it. By default the little box will have a check mark, so clicking the little box will make that mark disappear. If there is no check in the box, leave it alone – your computer is already showing you file extensions.
Click Ok to save the setting change and close the window. If you’re done with the My Computer or Windows Explorer window, go ahead and close that too.