Don't Let Online Spooks Play Tricks on You
October 24, 2011
October is the season for ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Unfortunately, they’re not all friendly like Casper nor are they like neighborhood kids ringing your doorbell in search of treats. Instead, you need to be on the alert for those who will play tricks on you while you’re playing, doing business or shopping online.
Because October is National Cybersecurity Month, this is a good time to brush up on cyber precautions, whether you’re new to the online community or you’ve been surfing and working online for years.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, suggests approaching computers and the Internet in the same way we urge children to approach the real world.
Don’t trust candy from strangers. Finding something on the Internet does not always make it true or good for you. Anyone can publish information online. So before accepting the statement or advertisement as fact, verify that the source is reliable and if it’s a business, check it out first at bbb.org. Because many scam artists “spoof” email addresses to appear that they’re coming from your financial institution or an online payment service, you should be wary of any email requesting that you verify account information. And never ever open attachments or respond to requests for personal or financial information from someone you don’t know.
Don’t be tricked into falling for an offer that is too good to be true. Many emails promise outlandish rewards or monetary gifts in the millions of dollars. They might state you’ve won a sweepstakes or that a rich businessman in a war-torn country left millions in a foreign bank with no heirs. Here’s the trick: You can’t win a sweepstakes you didn’t enter and there are not wealthy strangers desperate to send you their money. These emails are phishing for your bank account number. Simple as that. Also, beware of pop-ups advertising free downloadable software – they may be disguising spyware or malware.
Don’t advertise that you’re away from home. Some email accounts, especially within an organization, offer a feature called an autoresponder that allows you to create an “away” message if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. While this is a helpful feature for letting contacts know you are unable to respond right away, the Department of Homeland Security advises that you do not provide details about your location and itinerary. Instead, use phrases such as “I will not have access to email between [date] and [date].” If possible, restrict recipients of this message to people within your organization or in your address book. If the away message replies to spam, it may increase the amount you already receive.
Don’t leave “treats” out in the open. Take steps to protect your personal and financial data by locking your computer when you step away; using firewalls, anti-virus software and strong passwords; installing appropriate software updates; and taking precautions when browsing or using email. Attackers and viruses are constantly scanning the Internet for available computers to target. To play it safe, whenever you’re not online, the DHS recommends disabling your Wi-Fi connection, turning off your computer or modem, even going so far as to disconnect cables.
Don’t throw caution to the wind. Information on your computer is vulnerable – but if you make regular backups, all is not lost in the event of an equipment malfunction, an error or a cyber attack.