-Crack your e-mail password
-Send automated spam to everyone in your contacts list
Some e-mails you receive may have computer viruses attached. These are in a completely different league and can generally be prevented. Having your e-mail hacked is not the same as having a computer virus.
E-Mail Security Tips:
1. Change your password often.
I change most of my passwords about once every two months. Most e-mail viruses that I've seen don't have the ability to change your password once they've cracked it. A password change stops most e-mail viruses that I've seen from continuing to send spam to everyone in your contacts list. Make your password a combination of letters and numbers. An all number code or an all letter code is a lot easier to crack. Most e-mail providers won't even allow you to make a password without at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, and one number anymore.
2. Add the following contacts to your contacts list:
While this will not stop most of the current e-mail viruses, it will stop a few of the older ones. While some see this as a hoax that doesn't actually prevent much, it should at least make a few of the attempts to e-mail spam undeliverable (which may result in a notice in your inbox). While it won't stop much, it doesn't take long to add two contacts to prevent the few that it will stop.
3. Don't open attachments with a .exe extension unless you know what it is.
In general, it may be better to say don't open any attachment unless you know what it is. Anti-virus programs are useless in preventing e-mail viruses but they will generally scan attachments that you try to download. They will catch some computer viruses when they do this but they will not catch all of them. It's safer to not click on an attachment unless it's from someone you know and you know what it is. A computer virus is a much larger problem than an e-mail virus but you should minimize your likelihood of getting computer viruses if you don't download random attachments from e-mails.
4. Report spam / junk.
A lot of known problematic e-mails will automatically filter into your junk / spam folder. If a spam e-mail makes it to your inbox, it is a good idea to click on the box next to the e-mail and click the button that says one of the following:
-Mark as Spam
-Mark as Junk
Or something to that effect. You don't just want to delete it, you want that e-mail address to lose the ability to contact and annoy you with garbage.
5. Accessing your e-mail on a public / unsecured network is not a good idea.
There are new tools coming out all the time for hackers that allow them to get your information when you don't use secure encryption. When you check your e-mail on an unsecured connection, you never know who could be running a key logger on your session. If possible, avoid looking up personal information in public settings or over public connections and always secure your router / wireless network.
For more explanations of technology and some general tech advice, check out my book Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate.