How to beat 2012’s web threats
Bulletin and message boards
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
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
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 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.
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 $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.
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.
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
tinyurl.com 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.
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.
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