Internet Crime on the Rise - How to Stay Safe on the Net

Internet Crime on the Rise - How to Stay Safe on the Net
According to recent statistics, internet dangers such as spyware, keyloggers and phishing are continuing to rise. Criminals have become very sophisticated in their techniques, and just about anyone who uses the internet is at risk of becoming a victim.

According to a recent Security Trends report published by Websense Security Lab, the first half of 2006 has shown huge increases in internet crime over the past six months. This is in large part due to the fact that cyber crime “companies” now exist. Criminals have gotten organized and now develop and sell toolkits that enable anyone with a bit of technical skill to set up his/her own botnet or phishing site. Since internet “crime kits” are now readily available to wanna-be cyber criminals, a whole new generation of internet thieves are setting up shop on the internet.

The biggest security threat to us casual internet users is identity theft and computer hijacking. This is done by using spyware that is installed on our computers when we land on the wrong web page. Criminals implant a tiny bit of code into a webpage that instantly enters a victims computer via the web browser (Internet Explorer usually). This code installs without notice and is invisible to antivirus software (spyware is not a virus). Once installed, the spyware sets up a tiny internet “tunnel” with its “mothership” computer and awaits instructions.

Depending on the criminals intentions, the spyware might wait until you access a logon page (your bank, online shopping checkout, eBay, etc…), where it will capture your credentials and transmit this information to the thief controlling the “mothership”. The crook can then easily access your account for personal gain; or he might sell this information to another thief.

If the criminal controlling the spyware prefers to make his money more “legitimately”, he may program the spyware to help him send out massive spam emailings to millions of addresses. This is all done without your knowledge, of course. If your computer has been hijacked and turned into a spamming robot, you will notice your computer is running slower than usual at times. Some PC’s are so heavily infested with spyware that they can hardly boot up anymore.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

Although the internet is fast becoming a very dangerous place, there are some things you can do to help ensure you don’t become a victim of internet crime.

  • Always use an internet security suite

    This is a bundle of computer security products that protects you from viruses and spyware. It also includes a personal firewall which helps prevent the “mothership” connections that spyware is known to make.

  • Use passwords that are difficult to guess

    A good rule of thumb for passwords is to make them at least 8 characters long. A strong password will consist of a combination of upper and lower case letters, as well as a couple of numbers. Use a password manager like RoboForm to keep your passwords safe and secure.

  • Keep Windows up to date

    Most malicious code is designed to take advantage of flaws in Windows. As Microsoft discovers these flaws, they issue patches to fix them. Run a Windows update every week to get the latest patches and fixes. Even better – set up Windows to use Automatic Update!

  • Always use the most recent version of internet browser

  • Whether you are using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, or some other browser, check every couple of weeks to see if there is a new version out. If so, download and install it. Many spyware applications are designed to enter your computer by way of browser flaws. By using an up-to-date browser, you will gain a lot of protection.

Helpful Resources:

Websense Security Labs - Security Trends Report 1st Half 2006

Antivirus, Firewall and Spyware Resources - Computer Security Suites

Roboform - an excellent (and free) password management tool

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You Should Also Read:
SpyCop - Spyware and Keylogger Detection
Firefox - a Safer Alternative to Internet Explorer
RoboForm - A Free Tool for Password Management

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