The computer security experts at Symantec (who create Norton AntiVirus and other software) are reporting that phishing scams have ballooned to nearly 8 million attempts per day. So, if it seems like you’ve been getting bombarded with more suspicious emails every day, it’s not your imagination.
Usually, the goal of such seemingly legitimate emails is to fool the recipient into revealing personal and/or financial information. If you respond by clicking on an attachment or link, malware can be loaded onto your computer that will enable cyber-thieves to establish remote access to it, as well as the information stored on their hard drive.
One of the reasons for the spread of such attacks is that it doesn’t take some evil-genius hacker to get into your computer. Cyber-criminals and gangs are able to buy ready-to-use “phishing kits” that makes wide-spread attacks relatively simple for them to launch. If you believe an email to be phishing scam, make sure to file a complaint with the FBI at www.IC3.gov.
Such scams are nothing new, and as email users have become more aware of them, the bad guys have made them harder to spot. Many security experts predict that 2013 will see the biggest increase in malware ever, so it’s vital you do all that you can to protect yourself. Understandably, with all of the various types of threats out there, how to do that can be confusing. “Viruses, malware, phishing, spyware, adware, botnets, spam, nagware, trojans, worms” - which is which and what are the differences? And how do you defend yourself against them? Well, in very basic terms...
A Quick 101 on Computer Threats
- A phishing scam is an email from a fake business, government agency or individual that threatens to take some kind of action unless the receiver responds. These also include too-good-to-be-true offers, typically promising big money if you follow their instructions.
- Viruses are a type of malware that replicate themselves, and are designed to spread, causing damage to computers and the data on them.
- Malware is a catch-all term that describes any type of malicious code.
Do antivirus programs protect against malware, and vice-versa?
That depends on the program. Norton, for example, claims that all of their security products scan for all types of malware: infectious malware, web threats, concealment malware, and mobile malware. Still, compare their products carefully to choose one (many discounts for their products are available) based on the level of protection you need.
Even if you do have security software installed, the best way to protect yourself is to always practice common sense, especially when it comes to phishing attempts:
- Never respond to any suspicious email. Delete them.
- Never click on a link or open an attachment within that email.
- Call the business or agency to verify the facts using a phone number you’ve obtained yourself, not one included in the email.
- Always remember that almost without exception, credible, unsolicited emails do not ask for financial information, passwords, pin numbers or other personal information.
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