Originally posted by Joe Eitel at devshed.com
According to Wikipedia, phishing “is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information.” If you are unfamiliar with the epidemic of phishing, it is high time that you educate yourself on the matter. Unfortunately, ignorance will not keep the danger of those who want your information at bay. Rather, if you are not educated about the dangers of phishing, you are even more vulnerable to it than most people.
Traditionally, the main method of phishing has been for criminals to send out massive amounts of e-mails to random e-mail addresses. These e-mails contain a link to a website that has some method of obtaining your private information. There are various ways that these websites can subtly retrieve your information.
The most common phishing scam is a “scam program.” The e-mail/website will entice you into joining some kind of program that you will quickly get wrapped up in. You may end up losing your Internet account passwords, financial information, personal identity, and large amounts of money.
Another method of obtaining your information is through a fake portal. You will be asked to register for some sort of website which will then capture your username and password and store it somewhere where it can be accessed and used against you.
No matter what type of phishing scam it is, generally it will promise things that sound really great and are designed to make you want to take part. This key fact will come in handy later when I explain how you can protect yourself against the dangers of phishing and scamming.
Fortunately, e-mail programs have gotten better at detecting these phishing e-mails and blocking them from ever getting to you. The result is that for some time, the number of people falling victim to phishing scams has rapidly decreased. Unfortunately, the scammers have gotten better at getting around this security. Because these are intelligent people that are trying very hard to steal other peoples’ hard earned money, they have made every effort to keep up their “living.” Now, according to PC World, phishers have begun making use of malware to attack their victims.
If you are unfamiliar with malware, Wikipedia defines it as “software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner’s informed consent.” Malware has been around for quite some time. For as long as the Internet has been around, criminals have been attempting to gain access to other peoples’ computers, information, and files. By using malware, criminals can steal your information for any purpose, as well as take control of your computer and use it for their own purposes.
Only recently have phishing e-mails begun to make use of malware to achieve their devious ends. In these e-mails, the person doing the phishing pretends to be from the bank. The e-mail asks the user to install a piece of software that they claim is a security update necessary for your financial security. This file or program is actually a piece of malware. If you trust the e-mail and install the “security update,” you may soon find that your personal information has been stolen or your computer is being controlled. Even worse is when you do not find out.
If you do not find out that the malware has been installed, it can continue stealing your information or your computer’s resources indefinitely. Even if you do find out about the malware, it can be very difficult to address and/or remove. The malware is specifically designed to tenaciously stay on your computer no matter what you think of to do about it. All in all, malware is a huge headache that can steal your personal information or just make your life more difficult by slowing down your computer and making it not work as well.
Unfortunately for computer users, phishing is not the only dangerous source of malware. All of the sources that I mentioned above are still concerns that you have to constantly be aware of. Overall, malware is a significant danger that affects everyone who goes online and is not very well prepared to deal with those other individuals that want to do them harm or take advantage of them.
According to Microsoft, “Prevention is not only installing protective software. It is also modifying our behavior so that we minimize the risk of exposure, and understanding what to do when we are faced with a risky situation.”
Sources of Concern
There are as many sources of malware as there is creativity of scammers and criminals, and unfortunately for us, criminals can be surprisingly creative. The main purpose of this article is to alert you to the dangers of phishing. Phishing almost always takes the form of an unsolicited e-mail.
Quite often, you will not really understand why you are receiving a phishing e-mail at first. As you read it, it will likely tell you it is from your bank, credit card, or some other important part of your life. Although this e-mail is not really genuine, many users become overly concerned that they will do something wrong with this important aspect of their lives and end up just doing whatever the e-mail tells them. Invariably, doing what the e-mail tells you will have you fall for the scam perfectly.
Another common source of malware is independent websites. These websites are small organizations that you have never heard of. These are websites that you have no external reason to trust, and really should not. As such, the website will work very hard to convince you that you should trust it and do whatever it says. Often, the website will promise you something small in return for some small piece of information that “poses no risk.” Either you will be drawn into a series of transactions that ends with you being infected, or you will be infected right away through some trick
A source of malware that surprises many is freeware downloads. Many individuals download free software because it does not cost them anything and often offers the same features of the more expensive products. Often, this software is legitimate and is just as good as it sounds.
However, sometimes the developers of freeware will use their free software as a medium through which to install malware. Although this malware is relatively innocuous and will likely just take some of your computer’s resources, it is still a bad thing to have.
One source of malware that should not surprises anyone is p2p services. Although their popularity has declined recently, p2p programs are an easy way for people to download rare or less-than-legitimate software, movies, and music. The programs will link a user to other similar users that have the files that you want.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the file that you are downloading is really what it is advertised to be. A surprising number of these are malicious files that can take over your computer or send away your information.
Now that you have learned the dangers of phishing and malware, it is important that you learn how to protect yourself from the dangers of online scammers and criminals. According to one user’s website, the easiest way to protect yourself is to avoid the sources of concern.
This is easy enough when it comes to p2p programs and freeware downloads, but it can be a little more difficult when it comes to phishing. You cannot just stop using your e-mail or reading e-mails that claim they are from your bank. This is part of the reason that phishing is so effective and dangerous.
When it comes to the sources that you cannot avoid, the best advice that I can offer is to use your common sense. More often than not, your bank is not actually sending you software to install; personally, I have never heard of that happening. If something sounds suspicious, be suspicious of it.
Before you take any action, search around for the situation on the Internet and see what others have to say about it. Chances are that you are not the first person that has been concerned about a potential scam.
Another thing you can do is recognize the signs that your computer has been infected with malware. If your computer is noticeably working slower than it did a short time ago, there is a decent chance that it is infected.
Another sign of malware is random pop-ups that you do not recognize. The Internet is a great source of information when it comes to things with which you are not familiar; a basic Internet search may provide you with the answers to your questions.
One of the best ways that you can protect yourself is to install the necessary security software. There are two vital types of programs that can help you: a firewall and a malware scanner.
The firewall will work constantly to ensure that your computer does not become infected with malware. It will scan your downloads, e-mails, and all of your activity online.
A malware scanner can be told on command to search your entire computer for signs of malware. The best malware scanners are updated frequently and will be able to identify any of the thousands of types of malware. The scanner will also be able to remove any malware that it finds.