Is Your Nose for News a Threat to Your PC?Kim Boatman
You’re the curious sort who always stays on top of current events, and you love the fact that information is never more than a click away on your PC.
However, your nose for the latest news could make you a target for the bad guys. Cybercriminals know we search for information and read voraciously when news breaks, so they use hot topics to ensnare victims.
“It’s one of the risks of living in modern society. We rely more on the Internet and email for information,” says Tom Kellermann, vice president of security awareness for Core Security Technologies, a security testing solutions firm. He also serves on The Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency. “Modern-day curiosity killed the cat, and the cat is the security of your PC.”
Con artists set up fake websites and send misleading spam, relying on our impatience and thirst for information, says Kellermann. Check out the latest news on cable news stations and entertainment news shows, and you get an idea of what the next con will use as bait. Experts say many attacks focus on these areas:
Health news. Cybercriminals recently sent a rash of swine flu-related spam that contains malware links. In this case, the virus you’d need to worry more about would infect your computer -- instead of your body. If you clicked on the link supposedly connecting you to a website with information about the virus, you’d be downloading malicious software. An online search for information about the virus might land you on a website offering bogus information pamphlets for sale. Your concern about H1N1 could lead to trouble with another sort of virus. You could be directed to a fake site where a supposed antivirus software alert pops up, prompting you to actually install a virus on your PC.
Celebrities. “We have an unending appetite for news about celebrities for some reason,” says Richard Stiennon, a malware expert with IT-Harvest, a research firm that specializes in Internet security. Savvy scammers know just which celebrity is hot news and tempt unsuspecting victims with promises of never-before-seen videos and insider gossip, say the experts.
Recent email scams included links purported to show videos taken of Michael Jackson’s last moments and his funeral. Visit a fake celebrity website, and your PC could be hijacked by malware. Jackson’s death also prompted a spate of supposed tribute emails containing images and songs. If you clicked on the zip file to hear the songs or to view the images, you downloaded a virus.
Natural disasters. You might feel an urgent need for information and a desire to express compassion when it comes to events such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. Although the rash of rogue websites purporting to offer information might resemble other attacks, disasters often prompt another scam. Criminals may pose as charitable organizations, using emails and websites to attempt to gather personal information such as your credit card number.
While it’s critical to be wary, you needn’t let your thirst for information go unquenched. Follow these smart strategies if you want to stay on top of the news safely:
Don’t click. Opening attachments and clicking on links is simply too risky these days. “You have to have that layer of paranoia and street savvy,” Stiennon says. If you simply must investigate a link, cut and paste the information into your browser to see if the site is legit. Don’t rely on information coming to you from unfamiliar sources.
Use reliable sources. Turn to reputable organizations for your news. For instance, if you want information about the H1N1 virus, visit the websites of the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Check out the websites of CNN, Fox News and other mainstream news organizations for current events updates. You can sign up for regular email alerts from news organizations, suggests Ori Eisen, founder and chief innovation officer of fraud prevention company 41st Parameter. However, be aware that crooks can copy the email format, posing as a news company. “Go and seek the news from the website if you want to get it authenticated,’’ he says. Visit People magazine’s website or another well-known celebrity news source for updates.
Use a Web safety advisor tool. Security software manufacturers and others offer free tools to scan and rate websites for security risks.
Create a new user account. Most of us surf the Web as systems administrator on our computer, says Kellermann. If you create another user account without systems administration capability and use it to surf, bogus Web sites won’t be able to download viruses because you don’t have authority to load new programs to the computer, Kellerman says. You’ll find User Accounts under the Control Panel in Windows. On a Mac, go to Apple menu, System Preferences and click Accounts.
Maintain protection. Install a security software suite and update regularly. Make sure you receive all patches and updates for your operating system.
Like most cyber-security matters, staying safe while following the news takes a bit of effort, says Kellermann. “Everyone wants to take shortcuts through the woods that is cyberspace,” he says. “We need to exercise more of what is called cyber-patience.”
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