You could be excused for thinking the Web in 2009 is carrying its own version of porcine (sorry – H1N1) influenza.
Here at the NetGuide Security Desk we are bombarded regularly with press releases outlining alarming new threats to our online safety. But this year, the level of alarm has been steadily ramped up from Code ‘Watch Out!’ (orange with pink overtones) back around February to the present Code ‘Yikes!’ (pulsating red rising to purple).
Among the harbingers of doom to fill our inbox in recent weeks:
• Web scammers are increasingly targeting social networking sites as distribution points for malware, inviting users of sites like Facebook and Bebo to click on links for hot gossip or messages from ‘friends’.
• Spam levels have risen to heights not seen in more than 18 months, driven by emails with image attachments that contain spam.
• Internet threats in April rose by 64%, with one in four being a phishing attack aimed at stealing personal information.
• A wave of spam cashing in on the previously mentioned H1N1 flu scare – usually with links to online pharmacies offering information on and ‘cures’ for swine flu.
• A report that the total economic cost of the Conficker worm could exceed $US9 billion.
• Another report asserting that the amount of electricity consumed last year in generating spam globally was equal to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes in the United States, with the same greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion US gallons of petrol.
Scary, isn’t it? But for most Web users, such threats never cause a blip on the radar. A prudent computer user who keeps their protection up to date (fi lters, fi rewall, patches) and doesn’t respond to unsolicited offers and invitations should remain safe. Common sense is your best defence (and NetGuide will always let you know if there’s something especially sneaky out there). Spam still vexes some people, but a recent poll we conducted suggested most users are coping (see pg 14).
And one final point to remember: security scares most frequently originate from companies with a vested interest, ie: they have a product to sell which deals with whatever threat they decide is especially urgent. Examine all such offers carefully, and be especially wary of those occasional pop-ups which tell you a security risk has been detected in your computer. Chances are, there’s nothing wrong and the ‘cure’ they’ll offer is either worthless or will cause other problems.