It's important to know who the bad guys are out there in cyberspace. You've heard of viruses and spam, sure. But do you know what wardriving, phishing and pharming are?
Nearly all of us will experience some form of attack through our computers. Here's an overview of some of the most common kinds of computer nasties out there, and ways you can avoid them.
Spam is junk email, texts or IMs. Usually they're just advertising something. But they might contain harmful programs that can infect and damage your computer.
If you receive spam, DELETE IT! Use a spam filter to block unwanted emails and don’t put your email address up on sites like Facebook and MySpace - automated programs called "spiders" are used to browse the web to collect info like email addresses for spammers.
Adware, Spyware And Malware
These guys range from annoying to harmful. They're little bits of software that secretly install themselves onto your computer when you're online.
- Adware can cause constant popups
- Spyware can log your keystrokes (this is one way to find out what your passwords are)
- Malware can corrupt your computer beyond repair
Adware, spyware and malware infect your computer when you open spam, click on popups, share files, visit dodgy websites or download certain software, so the message is: think before you click!
There's heaps of software out there (similar to anti-virus software) to guard against these three - a quick search will turn up some freebies, but make sure you're getting them from a reputable source.
Hackers are people who try to break into your computer and take control of it. They use software that can easily crack your password, especially if it's weak.
Use a strong password that is:
- At least eight characters long
- Has a mix of letters (upper and lower case) and numbers
- Not something other people know, like the name of your dog, cat or favourite ice-cream flavour
Phishing And Pharming
Phishing is a hoax email or IM sent to you to try and trick you into sending back personal info such as:
- Bank account details
Often these messages claim to be coming from a trusted source, like a bank.
To avoid phishing, NEVER provide private or sensitive information - like passwords or bank details - over email or IM. If the email asks you to click on a link, type it into your browser yourself instead and if there is a number to call, check it on the bank’s website before you call the number in the email.
Pharming is where a hacker forces your computer to redirect to a fake website. For example, you might think you're logging on to your internet banking website, but you're actually on a site that looks almost exactly the same.
To avoid pharming, double-check the website you're on. Secure websites, such as internet banking sites, use "HTTPS" (the ‘S’ stands for Secure Sockets Layer or SSL, which means the information is encrypted) in the web address of their payment pages, not "HTTP". If the address you're at just has HTTP, then it's not secure.
For example, this address indicates a secure site:
But this one might not be secure, and could run the risk of passing your payment details on to other people:
The difference is subtle, but important to look for.
Another indication of a secure site is something like a padlock icon or a green shading around the website's mini-icon in the address bar. Have a quick look around your browser for details along those lines. If you double-click on these icons, you can check out info about the website’s security.
Pop-ups are browser windows that appear out of nowhere. Their aim is to get you to click on them. They can look like ads, banners or special once-in-a-lifetime offers. Most pop-ups are just annoying ads, but some are scams intended to rip you off or get you to download malware that can hurt your computer.
First, don’t click on them. Second, use the pop-up blocker settings in your browser preferences to stay pop-up-free.
Viruses are programs that can copy themselves and infect computers. They are similar to adware, spyware and malware in that they cause you grief, but their ability to reproduce and spread is what makes them different.
Anti-virus software is the best way to go, but even this doesn’t guarantee you’ll be safe. Remember, viruses don’t only come from the internet - they can also be transferred from memory sticks, CDs and DVDs.
Wardriving (Unsecured Wi-Fi)
Wardriving is cruising around the neighbourhood searching for unsecured Wi-Fi networks. It happens much more than you’d think. People connect illegally to networks and download heaps of stuff or use your network to commit criminal acts.
This is an easy one. Secure your network to stop other people accessing it. Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) is the current standard and should be available on all recent Wi-Fi devices. It may be obvious to say this, but you should also turn off your internet connection when you’re not using it.
Ten Tips For Cyber Health
You wear a seat belt when you’re in a car, you wear a helmet when you’re on your bike, you don’t lick the beaters while they’re still running. Technology is a powerful tool - these ten tips can save you a lot of time and hassle and help you to enjoy all the good stuff without having to deal with the bad.
- Make regular backups of all your important data - pics, videos, docs and other files
- Use an anti-virus program and keep it up to date
- Look for indications of security when using your financial details online, like "HTTPS" and a padlock icon
- Make sure your password is at least eight characters long and a mix of letters and numbers
- Never click on advertising pop-ups
- Never click on links inside emails from a person or company you don’t know
- Use a spam blocker if you’re receiving heaps of unwanted emails
- Check your firewall settings and ensure you have some level of security
- Use an anti-malware and anti-spyware program
- Secure your Wi-Fi connection with a password
Stay Smart Online
The Australian Government's cybersecurity website provides information for Australian internet users on the simple steps they can take to protect their personal and financial information online.
Stay Safe Online
A US site with lots of practical advice, managed by the National Cyber Security Alliance.
The Australian Government's eSafety site is designed to help empower you to be safe online.
Helpful site full of tips on how to stay in control on the web.