‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it’s hard to be merry if you’re trying to rebuild your computer files or your credit as the result of a malicious attack from the dark side of the internet.
Every year, especially around the holidays, a new crop of phishing scams and malware pops up to take advantage of careless browsers and wishful thinkers. And this year the bad guys are taking special aim at mobile devices like smartphones and tablets which often don’t have the same level of protection as larger systems.
Here are some tips to keep your holidays jolly as you navigate your way through cyberspace.
With over half of internet searches and a growing number of purchases coming from mobile devices, scammers are increasingly using mobile apps as a point of attack. Sites like Google Play and the Apple Store do a good job of vetting apps they offer, but third-party app stores may not be so vigilant. Be careful what you download. Before getting an app, do a quick online search to see if anyone has posted a warning about it. Better yet, stick to sources you know and trust.
With so many people shopping online, scammers have turned to fake shipping notices as a favorite point of attack. They send out official-looking notices that invite you to click on a link to verify a shipment or track a package, and when you do, they’ve got you. All of the major shippers have ways to track your order on their own sites. Use them, not phony emails.
Anyone can put a realistic-looking ad or email together, so don’t presume that unsolicited offers that show up in your mailbox are legit. If something sounds tempting, don’t click on the link in the promo; go to the company’s website instead. If it’s real, it’ll be there, too. And don’t let the sender’s email address fool you. Legitimate business URLs can be “spoofed” and look authentic. The old adage applies here: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. If it is, you can get the same deal on the company site.
Instant messages with malicious links have long been a favorite of scammers, and this year Skypers seem to be a favorite target. When the user clicks on the link, a Trojan downloads and grabs the user’s contact list. Then it sends the same malware link to those people, too, in the hope they will also download the malware which is often “ransomware” that demands money to restore the infected computer or mobile device to proper working order. Ransomware infections have become so widespread that even the FBI suggests that payment may be the best solution.
“Take this survey and you might win….” Or you might have given your personal information to a scammer. Here again, if it’s legit, there are safer ways to enter contests. This sort of scam is particularly popular on social media sites like Facebook where the scammer will ask you to share the survey with your friends. You might not have any left if you do.
Before you jump into the brave new world of cyber-shopping, protect yourself from dangers lurking in the shadows. Keep your antivirus, anti-phishing, firewall and spyware protection up to date and don’t overlook updates to your operating system, either. New scams pop up daily, and complacency can be costly.
If you’re on a network, whether at work or at home, be sure everyone on it practices safe browsing. And don’t forget that common sense is your best defense. Antivirus software is good, but it’s not perfect. If a link looks strange, don’t click it. If a site looks suspicious, don’t go there. If an app isn’t well documented, don’t download it.
All of us at The Unleaded Group wish you a happy and safe holiday shopping season!