Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Busy Computer Seasons: a Virus Writer’s dream!

The Busy Computer Seasons: a Virus Writer’s dream!

by André Thomas

In the world of computers, there are two primary busy seasons – the holiday shopping season of November and December as well as Tax Time, though not in the ways you might expect. Viruses, malware and spyware have an ebb & flow. From years of experience, we have seen this pattern over and over again. This is not to say that viruses are not a concern all year round, they are, though there are times when you should make doubly sure that you are browsing safely.

So, why do virus programmers and hackers find these times particularly tempting? The reasons are great, though here are some of the top reasons to think about: 
  • How many credit card numbers do you type in when shopping online?
  • How many times do check your bank balance?
  • How many new store accounts do you sign up for with your favorite password(s)?
  • How many emails with sales circulars and tracking info do you open?
  • How much comparison shopping/browsing do you do looking for a great deal?
Just one of these by itself would be a tempting target to infect your computer and steal your information/identity. When you put them all together, it is a smorgasbord for the ill-intentioned. Many of the same principles apply to tax time with the added danger of having to input personally identifying and extremely sensitive information, including your social security number.

What can you do to protect yourself? No one is ever 100% safe from viruses, malware or spyware, but you can definitely help protect yourself. Here are some of the ways:
  • Make sure your computer’s operating system is up-to-date
  • Make sure your browsers are up-to-date
  • Make sure Adobe Flash Player and Java are up-to-date
  • Verify that you have a properly functioning and up-to-date anti-virus (preferably one that gets very good rankings by independent labs)
  • Pay close attention to emails that you receive and do not click on any link from an untrusted source. You can even hover your mouse over these links and verify the url it is sending you to. Check what it says closely as often times these URLs will be “masked” to look like the real thing.
  • Do not enter sensitive information on unsecure websites. Look for “https://” or the “lock icon” in the address bar when browsing
If you do get infected, get your computer checked as quickly as possible; we can usually tell if there is reason to believe your data may have been compromised. Also, the longer you wait, the harder it is to restore your computer to a functioning, non-infected unit. Lastly, keeping a close eye on your account statements for incorrect charges is always a good idea.

Enjoy the holidays and safe browsing!