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Web Threats Abound

Kim Komando, Host
America's Top-Rated Computer/Internet Talk Show

Kim Komando Show

There are lots of bad people on the Internet who want to hurt you. For starters, there are the tricksters. They e-mail you an official looking notice, usually from your Internet service provider, credit card company, eBay, PayPal or another organization.

At first glance, the e-mail looks legitimate. The e-mail often contains the company's logos along with a request to update your account information at their Web site. But the link within the e-mail is not the company's site; it belongs to the tricksters.

Just clicking the link could get you into trouble. If you don't have a firewall protecting your system (more about that later), it is possible for these malicious types to still get you. They can place a program on your computer that gives them full access to all files.

The bogus Web sites even look like the real thing. Navigation bars on the fake sites take you to the actual company's site. Some trickster sites even include the real company's privacy policies assuring you that the information you are about to transmit is secure.

One thing that the tricksters cannot duplicate is the real company's Web address. Usually, they include the real company's name somewhere to fool you. Pay close attention to the Web site address. If it is not the company's main address, such as www.companyname.com, put your guard up.

In fact, it's very unlikely that a legitimate organization will send e-mail that directs you to a Web site to update your account information. If you get a message like this, delete it. If you aren't sure, call the company.

As if the tricksters aren't enough, "social engineering" is on the rise. Here, authors of covert programs entice you to download a file. Maybe you get spam or a message in a chat room that offers naughty pictures. You click the link and download a program. It might include the pictures. It might also include a secret program.

The latter could be a Trojan Horse. These are programs used to collect personal information (passwords, credit card information, Social Security number, etc.) stored on a computer and send it all back to someone on the Internet.

How can you protect yourself? First, don't reply to spam. Many things can happen if you do. Probably none of them will be good. So use your head. But you may need more than common sense. That, naturally, brings us to having a firewall.

Firewalls protect what comes in and what goes out of your computer when you are online. If a rogue program is planted on your computer, it can't report back to its master without your permission.

In addition, would-be intruders use scanners to find machines hooked to the Internet that have open communications ports. These ports can be used to send data back to the Internet. If your machine is identified as vulnerable, you could be targeted for attack.

People with broadband, always-on connections are especially susceptible. They almost always have a fixed Internet address. Those with dial-up connections are less vulnerable, because their address usually changes each time they sign-on. Nonetheless, everyone should have a firewall.

There are hardware and software firewalls. If you are sharing an Internet connection, firewalls are typically built-in a router. Otherwise, you'll need a software program to do the job.

Several companies market free for personal use software firewalls, including Agnitum's Outpost, Sygate's Personal Firewall and ZoneAlarm. Windows XP also includes a firewall, Internet Connection Firewall. I don't recommend it because it does not stop outbound transmissions.

Finally, there are viruses. Most are sent via e-mail as attachments. They are launched when you open the attachment. Some viruses are so sophisticated that they disable anti-virus software. They also get into your address book, and send themselves via e-mail to everyone there.

Combat viruses by using anti-virus software. Never open an e-mail attachment without scanning it first. And be sure to keep your anti-virus software updated. If the software doesn't know about the virus, it cannot protect you.

Copyright © - WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. Kim Komando is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, Computer Editor Popular Mechanics and author. You can subscribe to Kim's free weekly newsletter by sending an e-mail to: subscribe@komando.com.

Read, "Kim Komando's 10 Commandments for Kids Online" and Stop "Friendly" Spam.

Kim Komando Newsletter

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