Files with a .exe extension, known as EXE files, can be harmful for a computer, but they are not always harmful. In fact, EXE files can be immensely helpful. There are a number of techniques which people can use to protect themselves from harmful EXE files, ensuring that they only open files which are safe.
If a file has a .exe extension, it means that when someone clicks on it, the file automatically executes code. A classic use of an .exe file is in compressed software available for download. Someone downloads the EXE file, clicks on it, and the file automatically runs an install program which extracts the contents of the file and allows the user to establish some settings. The file may contain anything from a word processing program to a game.
Many software developers release their products online in the form of EXE files which people can download. This is designed for convenience, so that people can immediately get software installed, rather than having to order it and wait for installation discs. Unfortunately, this practice has accustomed computer users to being able to download EXE files, and as a result, people are sometimes less careful about them than they should be.
Malicious EXE files can execute a variety of operations which can be harmful to a computer. The file might install a virus when opened or direct the computer to perform an operation such as randomly deleting files. Because the EXE file starts automatically when it is opened, the computer user does not have an opportunity to step in and stop the file if it becomes apparent that it is doing something harmful.
The first tip for avoiding harmful EXE files is to only download and open EXE files from reputable sources. For example, if someone wants a common Windows utility, they should go to the official Windows web site to download it, not to an unknown third party site. For downloads of various programs, it is a good idea to go to the official program site or to use a service like CNet, which vets all of the files on its site to check for harmful materials. Even accepting EXE files from friends is not advisable, as someone may not be aware that a file has a virus.
People can also get information about an EXE file without having to open it, by selecting it and going to the “properties” tab in the menu. The properties should include a description of the file and the author; if the description and author seem strange, the file may not be safe to open. Finally, antivirus software can be used to scan EXE files before opening them to confirm that they do not contain viruses. Users can also set their operating systems to prompt them when opening an EXE file, asking if they want to continue; this also helps people avoid accidentally opening an EXE file.