Watch your step

While the Internet has enriched our daily lives it has also exposed us to a diverse array of digital threats

Tags: Cyber crimeSymantec Corporation
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Watch your step
By  Jason Saundalkar , Clayton Vallabhan Published  April 12, 2011

While the Internet has enriched our daily lives it has also exposed us to a diverse array of digital threats. These are capable of destroying data, stealing your identity and can generally make life very unpleasant. Here we show you what to look out for and how to side step these digital pitfalls using good old fashioned common sense and a few important tech-tools.

The Internet is without a doubt one of the planet’s greatest assets. This digital information exchange medium makes it possible to do amazing things but, as always, there’s always another side to the coin.

Today visiting websites, downloading files, using social media sites or even sending e-mails exposes you to an unimaginable number of digital threats. These can really make life difficult because some of them can steal your money, destroy your data and, if you’re unlucky, do much worse.

Since most of the individuals behind these threats live purely by exploiting others via their various viruses, Trojans and other digital creations, with each year there are newer, smarter and therefore deadlier threats that you have to be wary of. 2011 is no different and since knowing is half the battle, lets look at the year’s top five ‘Cyberthreats’ and how to deal with them.

Norton’s Top Five Cyberthreats for 2011

1) Social media identity theft – With the number of Facebook users in the UAE soaring past 1.7-million in the first half of 2010 and showing no sign of stopping, it is important to note that with the tremendous popularity of social media sites comes a dark side as well - virus writers and other cybercriminals go where the numbers are and that includes these popular sites. Social media, networking and collaboration sites are ultimately no different than any other communication channel in that we must always protect our sensitive data regardless of the medium in which we are communicating.

Beware of any unusual messages or requests from your friends online, and never give out your password to anyone, fake events and messages with contaminated URLs have become popular amongst spammers for actively targeting social media users. Norton Safe Web for Facebook, scans current Facebook news feeds to see if they contain links that are unsafe.

2) Smartphone and tablet hacking – Although cyber criminals have shown little interest in mobile devices in the past, as these devices grow more sophisticated and as a handful of tablets corner the market, it is inevitable that attackers will hone in on mobile devices in 2011 and confidential data loss will become increasingly problematic. Anytime we connect to the Internet we are instantly at risk, regardless of the medium in which we are accessing the web.

Additionally, 2010 saw significant growth in smartphone and tablet usage with a series of landmark product launches across the Middle East. With the country being a major international financial hub, there is a fundamental need for business users to protect sensitive and confidential data that belongs to their company.

3) Beware of trending topics – Cybercriminals are savvy when it comes to the latest social trends. Whether it’s X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing gossip, cybercriminals catch on to these trends and poison search engine results, which can leave users at risk of clicking on an infected link.

Norton Safe Web Lite is a free tool that identifies poisoned search results to help Internet users protect themselves from cybercrime. Users should exercise caution when visiting sites with high traffic. According to Google4 online services such as utility bill payment and online banking are the most popular searches by people in the UAE with international celebrities also being among the hot topics considering the ever expanding expatriate community of the country.

4) Shortened Web addresses – Internet users should be careful about clicking on shortened URLs (“Uniform Resource Locator,” the Web address). They can be found everywhere on social media sites, but the URL hides the full location. Clicking on unknown web links can direct users to their intended site, or one that installs dangerous malware on an Internet connected device.

5) Pharming – Pharming is another form of online fraud very similar to its cousin, phishing that is used to gain information such as online user names and passwords.

Pharming attacks work by hacking into a legitimate DNS server, responsible for converting Internet names into their real addresses and changing the IP address. With the user believing they are visiting the genuine site, they are more likely to give out information willingly.

Pharmers are more difficult to detect because they are not reliant upon the victim accepting a bait message. They instead redirect victims to a bogus website even if they type the right web address of their bank or other online service into their web browser and thus protecting against this requires advanced multi-layered security as a defence mechanism.

Besides the aforementioned threats to your digital security, you also have to worry about other forms of digital threats and Cybercrime.

What is Cybercrime and how to recognise it?

Cybercrime can take many shapes and can occur nearly anytime or anyplace. Criminals committing cybercrime use a number of methods, depending on their skill-set and their goal. This should not be surprising: cybercrime is, after all, simply ‘crime’ with some sort of ‘computer’ or ‘cyber’ aspect.

- Some starling facts about Cybercrime are:

•Cybercrime has surpassed illegal drug trafficking as a criminal money-maker

•Every three seconds an identity is stolen

•Without security, your unprotected PC can become infected within four minutes of connecting to the Internet

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