Awareness : Security Awareness Tips

Warning: Your Computer May Not Be Infected

By now, most of us know better than to open email attachments from unknown sources or download software from untrusted sites. Likewise, we should already have an antivirus program and maybe even other software on our computers to stop malware.

We depend on those programs to protect our vital information. But if you are like most people, you have installed your antivirus and forgotten about it. Good security software is supposed to work behind the scenes, with as little intervention from you, the user, as possible. Hopefully, you have remembered to set your antivirus to automatically download updates on a regular basis or you do so manually.

Now, a new trend — malvertising — takes advantage of your security knowledge. Online advertisements are posing as antivirus software to make you believe your computer has been infected.  So while you are browsing the Web, a message will display, like “Warning, your PC is infected,” and inviting you to click a link to download bogus software. The image above contains samples of what may appear in one of these scams.

These advertisements often lead to harmful or deceptive content, redirect to a website that advertises rogue security software (scareware), infect a computer with programs that can damage or steal information, or even allow a remote attacker to fully control the computer.

“The fake [antivirus] threat is rising in prevalence,” according to Google.  Fake antivirus programs recently accounted for 15 percent of malicious software they found online.

Malvertising can even be found on reputable sites. The New York Times, Fox News, and other leading websites have already fallen victim to malware ads.

Not only do these fake antivirus programs pose a security threat to your computer, but “many users ... pay to register the fake [antivirus],” Google said in a report last week. So these users are providing their credit card information as well as other personal information to online hucksters — a recipe for identity theft and fraud. 

A few good habits can help you avoid online scams and ensure the safest computing experience possible:

  • Make sure you use legitimate and up-to-date antivirus, firewall, and anti-malware tools. Medical IT and Coral Gables IT provide these free of charge for computers both on campus and at home (some conditions apply).
  • Get to know your security software and be extra cautious about offers to scan your computer with programs you do not recognize.
  • Do not give out personal information unless you know the website is secure.
  • Do not enter your credit card on websites you do not trust.

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Posted April 30, 2010