The Internet is a wonderful thing!
It provides endless information on just about anything in a matter of seconds.
It also follows suit with the sentiments of globalization from online shopping to connecting to someone across the world with FaceTime, Skype, and many other platforms.
I am confident when I say that the Internet is a one-of-a-kind invention that stands out from all the other innovations of its time.
With all the freedom and development, there are also disadvantages, threats, and dangers that users need to be aware of.
One of the main threats is malicious computer infections.
Thousands of new viruses are being released onto the Internet on a daily basis and thousands of users get infected with this malware.
According to a study conducted in 2012, researchers have concluded that 32% of people around the world have some kind of computer infection. Moreover, about 20% of infected users do not know how to use the Internet correctly and click on false download buttons and malicious ads.
While all of the above may be true and pressing, there are ways for users to protect themselves and to combat the threats without having to depend on other people or software.
This article will spell out the basic understanding of how the Internet works and how malicious programmers operate to steal money and identity.
So, let's talk about what kind of malicious attacks and Internet security threats are hidden in the virtual world that compromise PC performance, steal identity, and scam for money.
Ransomware has become widespread over the last year (1 billion dollars in damages), and it might sound complicated, but it is pretty straightforward to understand how this malicious software works.
Basically, formatted like a Trojan horse, ransomware wants the user to believe that it is a regular file. It does anything to fool the user into thinking that it's a legitimate file.
Ransomware is usually sent over email, but it can also be downloaded from malicious sites and URLs.
Some of the tricks ransomware uses are posing as job application ad or using a malicious site to disguise itself as a legitimate download, while it's actually malware.
Once the link or program is opened and activated, it starts encrypting the user's files. After the encryption is completed, the cyber criminals demand a ransom of a large sum of money in order to release/decrypt the files.
The catch is that a user cannot redeem the files in a conventional manner!
Credit cards are not accepted by the ransom holders.
Users are sent to the browser Tor.
The reason why Tor is used instead of regular browsers is because Tor aims to conceal its users' identity and their online activity, such as surveillance and traffic analysis by separating identification and routing.
In short, this means that the malicious programmer cannot be tracked down and the website cannot be shut down even with the help of special tools.
In turn, users are demanded to pay up the ransom in Bitcoin.
For those of you who still don't know, Bitcoin is a form of digital currency that is created and held electronically. No one controls this platform, and this is why it is the preferred platform; once the payment goes through, it cannot be traced because a special encryption prevents it from being found.
For a very detailed explanation of ransomware and how to prevent it in the first place, read our comprehensive ransomware protection guide.
Fake tech support has also become quite a popular scheme to get money out of users.
There are a few ways for innocent users to fall for fake tech support scams, with the most common one being from malicious ads or websites.
A month ago, I myself fell into a trap whereby I landed on a fake Google website that had a pop-up box which prevented me from closing the browser. The pop-up box kept appearing with the words "Your computer has a virus, call Microsoft technicians to fix the problem."
If users call the number they will be connected to a fake technician who then connects to the users' PCs. The technicians then tell the users that they have to pay in order to get rid of the problem. If users pay up to get rid of the "problem," the technician will hang up and the money will be lost.
These scams usually rob people out of 100 to 500 dollars.
In order to pick up on a fake tech support it is important to know that the browser will not say you have a virus; at most it will say there is an error.
Users risk website redirection even when they browse the Internet on their mobile phones.
Some browsers have a safeguard in place against website redirection, but many people still encounter the latter.
Web redirection works much like a virus does. It uses malicious code that activates after a certain amount of time or a user can tap on the mobile screen and then automatically be redirected to another website without the user's consent.
It is easier to get out of these traps on PCs by exiting a website or clicking back on the browser or opening the task manager and closing it from there.
On mobile phones; however, it is a bit more complicated. Once a user is redirected, a pop-up usually appears stating that there is a virus or claiming that the user has won a prize.
It's all fake, so don't be fooled!
These pop-ups are there to urge users to click on buttons that read "Claim my prize" or "Ok," which then downloads a malicious file that infects the mobile phone.
While some people won't fall for these schemes, malicious writers have advanced the code enough that not everyone can escape out of the popup and the only solution will be to restart the phone or try to open task manager as fast as possible which usually doesn’t work.
While android is usually known for this type of problem, iPhones are now a target too!
Recently people have discovered a bug that glitches the safari browser on the iPhone, opening tabs every second and slowing down the phone significantly. While it does not block a user from leaving the browser, it impacts the speed of the phone.
Basically, it will open the tabs in the background and make the phone unusable. And opening the recent application and closing it doesn’t work! The only way to fix the issue would be to restart the phone!
Since this was a bug advantage, Apple will soon patch this but this tells us that iPhone is no longer as secure!
Adware and spyware are yet another problem!
You might think that you have never had or will never encounter this type of malware, so think again.
When a user downloads a program, there is sometimes "bundleware" (bundled software) that is attached to the desired program that contains adware or sypware.
Bundleware is unwanted and useless programs that can be downloaded while users install other desired programs.
Skype is a good example.
The installation of skype has bundleware; it often offers users to download the Bing bar or change the homepage to MSN.com.
Spyware is designed to be hidden away and keeps track of everything a user searches for and types, which is then sent as data back to the writer of the spyware in order to steal information.
This type of malware can steal almost anything the writer of the program wants. This means that users won't be protected during online banking, online shopping, and even online gaming where accounts are not secure. Passwords and usernames are stolen without the user even knowing.
Adware works in the exact opposite way to spyware.
It attaches itself to anything that has access to the Internet.
Adware usually targets a browser by placing fake ads that generate money for the malicious writers, and moreover, the computer slows down drastically.
These type of infections become more advanced by the day.
Browser extensions have become very popular because they are so easy to download; this in turn leads to users making rogue extensions which place ads in the browser.
Overall, there are many infections that are released on the Internet, so users have to know the basics of how to protect themselves.
Many people use antivirus programs, which is good, but antivirus software cannot detect and remove every single infection out there because most are new.
The solution is to have some kind of knowledge to ensure the best protection possible.
So, let's talk about how to protect yourself and distinguish the fake from the legitimate; let's understand the Internet and its dangers.
Ransomware spreads via email and tries to trick the user into thinking it’s a legitimate file. This also means ransomware writers change the icon so it looks legitimate.
However, there’s an easy way to see if it’s actually legitimate.
If on Windows, users can enable a feature to see the file extensions of certain files.
For example, Google Chrome is an executable (.exe), which is a program that opens up and runs. But there are also other type of file extensions such as a text document (.txt) or a PDF (.pdf), which are very different from .exe files.
With this, a user actually see what the program really is. If a person emails a user saying there is a resume in a PDF icon form and turns out to be a .exe, then a user will know it’s something malicious.
But don’t get so excited! This feature only works once the file is downloaded and or placed on the computer.
What does this mean?
Gmail on Google Chrome shows the attachment and the icon but not the file extension. Once the user clicks on the download button, which then places the file in the downloads folder, the user will be able to see the file extension.
Same with downloads!
When downloading software, a user needs to look over the installation process before continuing. Many times, the scheme is to change the homepage or it can be something like installing a useless toolbar.
Many malicious writers try to scam innocent people with messages that claim that their credit card is expired or an account is disabled.
The the users are sent a fake link or website in which to type personal credentials so that the scammers have the information.
To protect yourself from these fake links, make sure to look carefully and see if the link is actually legitimate or not. For example, look at this fake PayPal website.
While it does look sort of legitimate on the page, the URL bar is incorrect which indicates that it’s not a real site!
While there are many programs out there to protect you, understanding the basics of computer malware and infections is the first step to protecting yourself from online threats.
Stay safe and happy browsing!
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