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Five big security threats for 2011

Ian Paul | March 10, 2011
Online malicious activity was a major headache in 2010, and so far, 2011 is no different: We've seen scams and malware on Twitter, Facebook, and the Android Market, as well as a rise in politically motivated online attacks. But that's no surprise to security experts such as Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for security firm Sophos. Cluley says that Sophos analyzes about 95,000 pieces of malware every day that is either brand-new or a variant of an older attack.

While it's probably no big deal if scam artists find out what your favorite movies or quotes are, your profile may contain critical data--such as your date or place of birth, cell phone number, and e-mail address--that can be used to build a profile about you and even steal your identity. Such bits of information may be the final data point a bad actor needs to impersonate you online.

You could even become a specific target for criminals through social networks. In September, three young men ran a burglary ring in Nashua, New Hampshire, by looking at Facebook postings about people going out and then targeting homes they believed were likely to be empty. Police said they recovered over $100,000 in stolen property after cracking the ring, according to New Hampshire's WMUR-TV 9.

Protect yourself: Be wary of any social networking postings that offer you the chance to see a cool photo or video or making claims you know to be untrue--such as a recent Twitter scam that offered to let you see who is viewing your profile. Often, these scams can be stopped by just revoking the app in your security permissions and changing your account password. Another smart thing to do, according to Cluley, is to stop and ask yourself why a Facebook application wants to post messages on your wall or access your friends list. If you can't think of a good reason the app would need to do this, perhaps it's not worth authorizing.

Threat 3: Fake Antivirus

What it is: Although they've been around for a few years now, fake antivirus scams are on the rise, according to Cluley. In the last eight months, Sophos says, it has analyzed more than 850,000 instances of fake antivirus. Also known as "scareware," these scams start by convincing you to download a free antivirus program, sometimes appearing to be software from a reputable security company. Then the software claims your computer is under threat from a virus and you can save your system by buying a "full" version of the antivirus program for a one-time fee.

Once you do that, however, not only have you allowed more potential malware onto your computer, but you may have also handed over your credit card credentials to identity thieves. At that point, the bad guys can drain your bank account or steal your identity.

The irony of all this, says Cluley, is that these scams owe some of their success to the fact that we are becoming more aware of computer security. Since we want to protect ourselves as much as possible from malware threats, we become easily seduced by software promising enhanced security.


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