Every year hackers get smarter and sneakier about how to infiltrate people’s computers, steal vital personal information, and spread mischief. A few years ago, all you had to worry about was malware spread by e-mail attachments. These days, you have to worry about mysterious links showing up in your instant messages, weird messages from Facebook friends you’ve never heard of, and malicious websites downloading who knows what to your computer as soon as you visit them.
So what’s a safe Web surfer to do, short of unplugging the computer and conducting all correspondence by carrier pigeon?
1. Stay vigilant, no matter what application you’re using. Hackers are hip to new media and won’t hesitate to use Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or instant messaging to get to you. If you wouldn’t click on a strange link in email, don’t click on it in Facebook.
2. Expect spam and phishing to spike around holidays or major events. If a celebrity just died and you get an email containing an attachment purporting to be video of that celebrity’s death – don’t open it.
3. Read your email with a VERY skeptical eye. One of our clients was recently contacted by a service that said it was investigating another company’s registration of a domain under our client’s company name. They were pretty obviously just phishing for information about our client. That email went straight in the trash, no response.
4. Know how to spot a zombie. If your computer sounds like it’s running all the time but processing has slowed to a crawl, or if you find returned messages in your inbox responding to emails you’ve never sent – your computer might very well be part of a bot net.
5. Be wary of warnings. The last few years have seen a huge upswing in false alerts for spyware and virus infections. Users are prompted to install a “free anti-virus” or “spyware removal tool.” Those who click “OK” to install the program instead install more spyware.
So this Halloween, remember – you’ll probably get a few Halloween-related spam messages, an invitation to view a stranger’s Halloween photos on Facebook, a suspicious inquiry from an overseas firm, and a maybe even a pop-up or two asking you if you want to install the latest and greatest in antispyware protection. The best thing you can do is ignore all of this, run another backup of your files, do a full system scan, and update your antivirus/antispyware protection with the latest definitions.