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The five big security threats of 2011

Vulnerabilities to watch out for

We introduce you to this year's batch of security vulnerabilities to watch out for.

Threat 2: Social network-based scams

What it is: Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter may be a great place to connect with friends, but they are also a breeding ground for malicious activity. Cluley says some of the most rapid growth in online attacks comes from social networks. In November, antivirus maker BitDefender made a similar statement, saying 20 percent of all Facebook users are active targets of malware.

Social network scams often take the form of phishing attacks that try to lure you in with photos or videos, and harvest your personal information or Facebook login - or worse, infect your PC with malware--along the way. Often, these links will come from Facebook friends who fall victim to these scams. You could also run across rogue Facebook applications that try to access your Facebook data and that of your friends.

While it's probably no big deal if scam artists find out what your favourite movies or quotes are, your profile may contain critical data - such as your date or place of birth, mobile phone number, and email address - that can be used to build a profile about you and even steal your identity. Such bits of information may be the final data point a bad actor needs to impersonate you online.

You could even become a specific target for criminals through social networks. In September, three young men ran a burglary ring in Nashua the US, by looking at Facebook postings about people going out and then targeting homes they believed were likely to be empty. Police said they recovered over $100,000 in stolen property after cracking the ring..

Protect yourself: Be wary of any social networking postings that offer you the chance to see a cool photo or video or making claims you know to be untrue - such as a recent Twitter scam that offered to let you see who is viewing your profile. Often, these scams can be stopped by just revoking the app in your security permissions and changing your account password. Another smart thing to do, according to Cluley, is to stop and ask yourself why a Facebook application wants to post messages on your wall or access your friends list. If you can't think of a good reason the app would need to do this, perhaps it's not worth authorising.

Threat 3: Fake Antivirus

What it is: Although they've been around for a few years now, fake antivirus scams are on the rise, according to Cluley. In the last eight months, Sophos says, it has analysed more than 850,000 instances of fake antivirus. Also known as 'scareware', these scams start by convincing you to download a free antivirus program, sometimes appearing to be software from a reputable security company. Then the software claims your computer is under threat from a virus and you can save your system by buying a 'full' version of the antivirus program for a one-time fee.

Once you do that, however, not only have you allowed more potential malware onto your computer, but you may have also handed over your credit card credentials to identity thieves. At that point, the bad guys can drain your bank account or steal your identity.

The irony of all this, says Cluley, is that these scams owe some of their success to the fact that we are becoming more aware of computer security. Since we want to protect ourselves as much as possible from malware threats, we become easily seduced by software promising enhanced security.

Protect yourself: First and foremost, make sure you are running a security program that's current - especially one that effectively blocks brand-new malware. And never download a security program from a pop-up window you see online or from a third-party site.

NEXT PAGE: PDFs

  1. Vulnerabilities to watch out for
  2. Mobile apps
  3. Social network-based scams
  4. PDFs


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