Dangers & Annoyances
on the Internet
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Editor-in-Chief: Kim Tracy, Executive Director of University Computing
Managing Editor: Anna Brown, Computer Literacy Training Coordinator
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The dangers that we face while working with our computers today are greater than ever before. Here is an overview of various threats and annoyances related to e-mail and the Internet, followed by tips for dealing with them and protecting your computer.
Viruses: Viruses are most frequently spread by opening infected email attachments. Some viruses are spread through Internet downloads, others through infected disks. There are over 5000 known viruses, and new virus strains continue to show up regularly.
Phishing: Phishing is the act of sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate company, in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. The e-mail often directs the user to a Web site where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, or bank account numbers. The Web site, however, is bogus, set up only to steal the user’s information.
Malware: Malware (short for malicious software) comes in a vast array of forms, each of which is designed specifically to damage or disrupt the infected machine or other networked machines. From redirecting your search attempts to tracking the websites you visit, or deleting your important documents, malware can sit quietly on your computer without you ever noticing, or it can slow down, disrupt or even periodically reboot your system.
Spyware: Spyware is software designed to collect information about an individual without his or her consent. Spyware can often result in strange and unexpected behavior on the infected user's system.
Adware: Adware is software designed to collect information about a computer user and his or her browsing habits in order to display targeted advertisements on the user's system - usually in the form of pop-up windows.
Pop-ups: A pop-up is a type of window that appears on top of the browser window of a Web site that a user has visited. A pop-up is obtrusive in that it covers other windows, particularly the window that the user is trying to read.
Spam: Spam is unsolicited e-mail – the electronic form of junk e-mail or phone marketing calls. Some apparently unsolicited e-mail is, in fact, e-mail people agreed to receive when they registered with a website and responded to (or ignored) a box about receiving postings on particular products or interests. This is known as opt-in e-mail or permission-based e-mail.
Hoaxes: A hoax is an email sent chain letter fashion, describing some important-sounding topic like a devastating virus. You can usually spot a hoax by its dramatic tone and the sections of text in all caps urging you to help spread the word. Never forward these email “warnings” to others; doing that only perpetuates the problem.
Handle Email Attachments with Care: Never open an attachment unless you are sure who sent it and what it contains. Always use your antivirus software to scan an attachment for viruses before opening it. To do this, save the attachment to your hard drive and open it from there.
Don’t Get Hooked: Never respond to an emailed request for passwords or other personal information. Any legitimate organization will tell you that they would never request information in this way. If you just aren’t sure, always contact the organization directly by phone to follow-up.
Refrain from forwarding those “URGENT” emails: Those seemingly important mass e-mails are most likely hoaxes. You can easily check on the Internet to confirm; do a search, using keywords from the subject line, at a site like www.snopes.com or in a search engine like Google.
Keep Your Software Updated: Without current software, your computer is almost sure to be infected or compromised. The two components most frequently attacked, and therefore most important to keep up to date, are the operating system and web browser. Stay current by checking for updates once a week or allowing your operating system to be updated automatically using Windows Update or Mac OS's Software Update.