How to beat 2012’s web threats (Part 3)

3/30/2012 9:11:26 AM

How to beat 2012’s web threats (Part 3)

Bulletin and message boards

Description: Vbb forums

However much you’ve talked to someone online, and however much you might trust the community of a particular forum, you don’t know who someone is until you’ve met them and their mum. Don’t be fooled into giving away too much information.

Emails and other messages

Scammers often rely on old tactics, tweaking them for new platforms and methods of communication. Facebook messages, instant messages and texts can be used just like email for spam and phishing scams.

New technology can make a scammer’s messages more convincing. Emails are increasingly targeted at individuals or businesses. A business receiving an email invoice in the correct format from a regular supplier for an amount in line with usual costs might pay the bill. And an email apparently from a desperate friend stuck without money in a country she regularly travels to might suck you in.

Appeals for sick children or other charities or pleas to sign online petitions should be checked for authenticity. Google is a good first port of call, after which you could try specialist scam sites such as

Fake surveys with promises of gifts, perhaps tailored to you personally, are another way of tricking you into lowering your defences. A job offer that references every skill on your CV and promises to pay a six-figure sum could be genuine - or perhaps someone’s read your CV on a professional networking site.

The danger of this type of fraud is that it becomes more convincing as more and more information about us is leaked online. Cybercrooks don’t always want your money, sometimes they’ll be satisfied with a few details they can sell on or the opportunity to install malware on your PC.

Fake antivirus

Fake antivirus software is a threat that shows no signs of slowing. Scammers are able to exploit people’s security fears using pop-up ads that claim to have detected a virus on their PC. Only they can fix the problem, they say. Never install ‘security software’ this way.

‘Buyer bewares’ might work in the real world, but online sellers need to be aware of dangers too. The usual warnings apply, but with some additions. Scammers are now targeting regular users of some auction and classified sites. They use a site’s reputation rankings to effectively blackmail sellers by threatening to leave negative feedback if a discount or even free goods are not given. Given how hard it can be for a seller to get their reputation restored, many will give in, keeping the fraud alive.

Description: Twitter

If you’re selling anything online, be aware of the site’s terms and conditions and how its complaints procedures work. Keep an eye on seller message boards, too.

Watch out for companies trying to sell you services that are freely available, such as government services. For example, in some countries a search for a visa will return several paid-for services above the government’s own site. With more and more government services finding their way online, the problem is set to become bigger.

For most people, however, the biggest threat comes from ordinary online purchases. Tread carefully, bargain hunters: online shopping promises price transparency and savings for all, but there are pitfalls to dodge.

The costs of saving

Saving $16 on a $800 laptop might seem like a steal, but what if you’re left waiting a month for delivery? Check whether the model you want (with the exact same specification) is available from an e-tailer you’ve used before. Then weigh up your £10 saving against the peace of mind you’ll get from dealing with a company you know.

Description: Real-World address

Of equal importance is the choice of courier or delivery service. Tales of new laptops left in wheelie bins or taken miles away to depots for you to collect are less online dangers and more real-world pains.

Think twice before buying from a site you don’t know. Google the company name with the word ‘problems’. Have a look on consumer complaint forums. Look for a real-world address and phone number on the website. Be particularly careful if you’re in a hurry - sorting out Christmas presents, for instance, or shopping while you work.

Short URLs

Twitter offers criminals a simple and increasingly popular way to infect your PC via short URLs. If no preview feature is available, it can be impossible to guess where you’re going. Be as suspicious of these links as you would of downloading an unchecked email attachment. If you’re worried, ask the friend who sent you the link to check it’s genuine.

If a URL shortener has a preview service, use it. For example, the service we use in the pages of we lets you see where you’re being redirected simply by inserting ‘preview.’ before the tinyurl. McAfee also offers a secure URL-shortening service.

Description: Short URLs

File sharing

New film and music releases have been infected by malware, both by hackers and media companies themselves in order to discourage illegal filesharing. If you must download torrent files (although we don’t condone it), take extra care. Most sites spare little cash on security, and they make no claims for the cleanliness of the file they’re offering.

Porn sites

The days of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ porn sites are over. Malware can now be found on sites as respectable as that of The Daily Telegraph. Although some hackers will use smut to tempt surfers, plenty more take security seriously. The truth is such sites are just as likely to harbour malware as any other type of website, and avoiding porn sites isn’t enough to protect you online.


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