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I get files with random extensions sometimes in order to bypass corporate firewalls. Usually I would just ask the other party what it is that I just received. Other times I get curious and open the file with notepad. Sometimes the file would have a plain text header which describes how to open it. Could this potentially cause "issues" if I didn't do it in a sandbox?

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To see what to open such a file with, I use the file command (You know how many people believe they can turn a Word doc file to pdf by renaming it?) – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 3 '14 at 22:49
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In theory, someone might be able to find a buffer overflow in notepad that could cause issues when opening a file, but the chances are pretty minimal and the file would have to be specifically made to exploit notepad. A sandbox is still technically the safest, but I generally view files in Total Commander's viewer (which is equivalent to opening it in notepad) because the risk is so low that it isn't really a problem unless you have really high security needs.

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As another user said, the only way they could possibly affect you is by finding an exploit in notepad itself. This would most likely be a buffer overflow attack since the only time notpad seems to have any issues is when opening files that are larger than the PAGEFILE + RAM combined. Other exploits may exist but notepad has been around forever...its probably pretty tight.

However, a more major issue would be opening the files in a third party note editor like Notepad++ as these editors may have unknown attack vectors.

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If you have to do this on a regular basis create a script that outputs the first line of the file. This will prevent any issues involving exploits targeted for notepad.

Here's an example:
https://stackoverflow.com/questions/130116/windows-batch-commands-to-read-first-line-from-text-file

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