The scariest sites on the net? They're not the ones you might suspect. Here's what to watch for and how to stay safe, in our list of the 17 scariest places on the internet.
Threat 4 : Malware hiding in video, music, or software downloads
The place: Torrent sites
Torrent sites (such as BitTorrent) are often used for sharing pirated music, videos, or software, and are a trove of malware. No one vets the download files - they may be malware in disguise.
Ben Edelman, privacy researcher and assistant professor at Harvard Business School, thinks torrent sites are the most dangerous places to visit, since they don't have a business model or reputation to defend (by comparison, many porn sites rely on being deemed trustworthy). "The [torrent] customers, they really don't want to pay," he says.
If you have to go there: It's probably best to avoid torrent sites entirely, given their untrustworthy content, but if you must visit, use a secondary PC to protect your main system. Use antivirus software, and keep it updated. Scan downloaded files and wait a couple of days before opening them. Brand-new malware can be tricky to catch, but the delay in opening may allow your antivirus software to get the necessary signatures.
Threat 5 : Malware in photos or videos of scantily clad women
The place: 'Legitimate' porn sites
Porn sites have a reputation of being less secure than mainstream sites, but that assumption doesn't tell the whole story. "There is no doubt that visiting websites of ill-repute is deadly dangerous. If you make a habit of it, it's a given that you'll be attacked at some point," says Roger Thompson, chief research officer with security firm AVG.
"Unfortunately, staying away from those sites won't keep you safe by itself, because innocent sites get hacked all the time, and are used as lures to draw victims to the attack servers."
And as mentioned earlier, many porn sites operate as actual, legitimate businesses that want to attract and retain customers. That said, it may be hard to tell the 'legit' porn sites from malware-hosting sites that use porn as a lure.
If you have to go there: Be suspicious of video downloads, or sites that require you to install video codecs to view videos (see the next threat, below). Using tools like AVG's LinkScanner and McAfee's SiteAdvisor can help you weed out the malicious sites.
And, again, consider visiting such sites on a secondary machine. You don't want your browser history on the family PC.
Threat 6: Trojan horses disguised as video codecs, infecting your PC with malware
The place: Video download sites, peer-to-peer networks
If you watch or download video online, you've likely been told to download a video codec--a small piece of software that provides support for a type of video file--at least once. Usually, these bits of software are perfectly legitimate (for example, the popular DivX codec), but some less-than-reputable download services or video sites may direct you to download a piece of malware disguised as a codec. Security software company Trend Micro provides a good example of what these attacks look like.
If you have to go there: Your safest option is to stick with well-known video sites such as YouTube and for catching up on the latest episodes of your favourite TV shows, sites and services like BBC iPlayer, SeeSaw and iTunes are safer than peer-to-peer networks.
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