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The only thing you should check before opening an application file

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It’s easy to assume that the files we download and install on our computers are exactly what they claim to be. After all, an app with a high-quality icon and a correct name seems legitimate: why would not it would be? Malware – and malware developers – thrive on these assumptions, since the goal is for you to open these malicious programs without asking questions. Luckily, there’s an easy way to find out the type of an app, program, or file on your Mac or PC. It’s just not enabled by default.

There is a setting built into macOS and Windows that will reveal the file extension for any file on your computer next to its name. Instead of Final Cut Pro, you see Final Cut Pro.app: Instead of Elden Ring, you see Elden Ring.exe. This appears for every file on your computer, which may not be suitable for some users. Not revealing file types is a cosmetic choice, and I get it: it’s much cleaner to show all your apps and files on your PC without those three- or four-letter extensions at the end. I’ll talk about a way to display the true extension of a file at will for those who prefer to keep things clean.

However, keeping file extensions enabled all the time can be life-cost-saving effort (computingly speaking). Malware on Windows is often written as an executable file, a basic file type that tells the computer to perform a task or series of tasks. This file extension appears as .exe, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t have a file-visualization of extensions activated. Malware developers know this and write their malware accordingly. A malicious file may appear on your computer as thedarkknight.mov, but reveal its full name and you will find that it is actually called thedarkknight.mov.exe. Not so innocent.

This does not mean everything .exe file types are malicious. Far from it: .exe is a common and legitimate file type used all the time in Windows. You may have noticed in my example a few paragraphs above that a game like Elden Ring will appear as an .exe file, and that’s normal. The goal isn’t to be afraid of every .exe you find: it’s more about being able to identify when a file that should not being an .exe appears as a . Remember: If a file or application you’ve downloaded from the Internet or as an attachment to a message seems sketchy, exercise caution and avoid opening it.

This setting can also be useful in other ways: sometimes it’s important to know what specific file type you’re working with, especially when it comes to compatibility. There are many different image file types, for example, and you won’t be able to tell which one you have in front of you just by knowing you have a photo. This image can be in .jpeg, .pdf or .heif format: you will know instantly if your computer tells you so.

How to View File Extensions in Windows

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to enable the setting to show file extensions in Windows 10 and 11. For Windows 10, open File Explorer, choose “View”, then click the tab next to “File name extensions”. For Windows 11, open File Explorer, choose “View”, then “Show”, then choose “File name extensions” from the list.

You don’t have to show file extensions for all files on your computer to stay safe, however, IIf you prefer to keep things clean and inspect files on a case-by-case basis, here’s how to do it: right-click on the file, choose “Properties”, then check its extension next to “Type”.

How to View File Extensions on Mac

Although you won’t come across .exe files on the Mac (at least none you can run, anyway), it can still be useful to show file extensions. After all, the same philosophies apply: you don’t want to open an application or file with a drastically different extension than you expect, and it can be useful to know exactly what kind of file you’re working with right now. moment.

To view file extensions in macOS, open Finder, then tap Command + , to open Preferences (you can also choose Finder from the menu bar, then choose “Preferences”). In the Preferences window, choose the Advanced tab, then check the box next to “Show all filename extensions”.

If you prefer to inspect a file’s extension rather than view all file extensions by default, you can right-click the file and choose “Get Info”. The actual file extension will be listed next to “Kind”.