- How can you spot a hoax from a real threat when you receive an email from a trusted friend?
- Worse yet how can you protect yourself from what appears to be a safe site or link when it actually is compromised?
Turns out it’s easier to debunk a hoax than it is to keep yourself protected from a real disguised threat.
Let’s look at the hoaxes first. How many of you have received an email from a friend telling you to be careful about a very destructive virus or other malware that is imminently circulating the Net only to find out later that it was a hoax? Don’t open “xyz” or your hard drive will crash! This can be embarrassing if you forwarded it to your whole address list. Don’t feel too badly, these hoaxes are often accompanied by references to McAfee or Symantec or some other highly respected security enterprise.
Fortunately there is a very easy way to spot these kinds of hoaxes. Snopes.com maintains a site called Urban Legends Reference Pages where they document hoaxes of all kinds from political to sports and all in between. As I write this column on the anniversary of 9/11, the top hoax on their Hot 25 list is the Budweiser one relating to 9/11. Search the Snopes site and you’ll uncover most hoaxes.
Another way to check out a hoax is to simply copy the first sentence of the message and paste it into a Google search bar. You’ll often be taken right to the appropriate page on Snopes or to some other hoax detection site. It’s amazing that many of these hoaxes have a life of their own. They may have circulated five years ago and today, here’s another round of the same. The one’s about Pepsi are classic and there’s even a whole genre about sick or needy children. Hoaxers keep up with the times and prey on common fears. The real danger that they pose is that they boost Web traffic with their spurious messages and slow down and clutter legitimate commercial and personal traffic. Over 85 % of email today is spam or some kind of junk.
Now to the more serious question: what can we do to keep from catching a virus or some other malevolent software when we are just surfing around minding our own business?
The newest trend for Internet criminals seems to be dropping malware on legitimate Websites in the hopes that you’ll pick them up before the owners recognize that they’re infected. Think of this scenario as a cyber drive by shooting. You don’t even hear the shot and you arrive home wounded. The results can show up later in slowed performance and loss of functionality in some of your programs, especially your browser and your security software.
The best protection for this kind of infection is to keep your Windows Operating System updated. Remember update Tuesday is the second Tuesday of every month. If you are on auto-update, make sure your PC is on the second Wednesday of the month so that it can take care of itself. In a future column, I’ll cover some of the other sneaky ways that malware creeps in.