Avoid Malware, Phishing and Email Scams: Everyday Tips You Should Know
- What is Phishing?
- Phishing Scam Prevention
- What is Malware and Ransomware?
- Malware and Ransomware Prevention
- USB Thumb Drive Safety
- Antivirus Software
If you run a small business, you are quite possibly doing plenty through the internet. You probably correspond via email on a regular basis. You’ve possibly invested quite a bit in your office computer, and chances are that the data you store on your office computer is important for your daily business operations. Small businesses and individual entrepreneurs don’t have the same budgets and security concerns that big companies have. However, it is just as important for you to stay safe where it comes to computer viruses, malware and phishing scams.
Even if you’re not running a business, the internet has become a household name. Almost everyone owns a device that is connected to the world wide web! The internet has changed how we bank, send and receive mail, do research, access entertainment and so much more. The internet has also changed the way criminals operate. It has given rise to new ways in which hackers and cyber criminals steal your data and money, and infect your computer with malware (computer viruses). Not only can this kind of activity have devastating consequences to your data and finances, but any computer infected by malware will perform much slower as well.
Knowing what to look for can lessen the danger of exposure to malware and email scams.
There are many antivirus software packages available today to protect your computer or mobile device from getting infected by malware and to keep your data out of the hands of cyber criminals. As good as these antivirus programs are at keeping your computer and data safe, they can only protect you to a certain extent.
Human error is the one thing your antivirus cannot always protect your computer from. A lot of malware relies on you to click on a link to download and install a program that contains malware. Knowing what to look out for and what not to do is as important as having an antivirus program on your computer. Good computer and online habits are instrumental in keeping you safe from online scams and malware. In this post, I will share with a few tips and tricks to help you identify and avoid email phishing scams and malware, and prevent you from handing your personal data to criminals on the internet.
Online Phishing is a common tactic used by cyber criminals. It usually consists of the cyber criminal impersonating a popular service or a service you are already using. The criminal then tries to get personal information from you by making you believe that it is this established organization or service (for example, your bank) contacting you.
For example, you may receive an email that looks like it is from your bank. The email states that your bank account has been hacked or compromised and that you must log in to your bank account via the provided link in the email. When you click on that link, a fake website opens that looks exactly like your bank’s legitimate online banking page. If you proceed to log in by entering your username and password, the scammers capture your input for their own malicious use. The cyber criminals now have your banking login details.
There are many variations of this scam but they all work on the same principle: they pretend to be a trustworthy service in order to get details from the victim that can be used to steal their money, their identity, or blackmail them with.
Phishing Scam Prevention
Firstly, know that your bank, mobile service provider, internet service provider, Amazon, Google, Netflix, or any other service provider you can think of, will never ask you for your personal login details via telephone, text or email.
What should you do if you receive such an email?
Do not click on the link. No service provider will ever ask you to log in to your account by sending you a link via email or text, unless you actually requested to change your password. No service provider will call you and ask you for your username and password or bank login details.
If you clicked on the link by accident you should close the browser window immediately and report the email as spam in your email client.
What if the email really seems to be from the company it claimed to be from, and you clicked on the link? Although I would advise you not to click the link to begin with, if you feel it is not a scam you can do the following to verify that the provided link is really from the claimed to be service provider:
Checking the Email Adress
If the email domain (firstname.lastname@example.org) or entire email adress (person@ example.com) differs from the email address that your bank legitimately emails you from, you can be absolutely sure it is a scam! If the email addresses are the same, I would suggest phoning the service provider you received it from. Use a phone number found on their legitimate website, or a number you already have for them - do not use any contact number that may be in the email - and ask them if they sent you that email.
Checking the URL
Go to the webpage for the service provider in question by manually typing the website address or using a known, legitimate bookmark you have saved yourself. For example, if the email claims to be from your bank, visit your bank’s known website by manually typing in the web address.
Then navigate to the exact same login page that email scammers provided you via their link.
Now, compare the URL of the email link to the one from your bank. (or the service provider in question.) See the below image for where to find the URL.
If the URLs differ, you can be sure that the URL provided in the email is fraudulent.
What is Malware?
Malware is software that is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system.
Ransomware is malware that does what the name implies: it holds your computer for ransom by locking your files on your computer so that you cannot access them without a password. It does this by a method called encryption.
For you to gain access to your files again, the hackers will provide you with a decryption key which is a password to unlock the files. This is subject to you paying them a certain sum of money within a certain timeframe. The payment is usually done via cryptocurrency because this is anonymous and untraceable. There is no guarantee that the criminals will send you the decryption key after you have made the payment.
Ransomware is most commonly spread via phishing emails containing links that will download and install the malware onto your system once you have clicked on the link. Ransomware can also be spread by you visiting a website that will infect your system without your knowledge. This is known as drive-by downloading.
Here is an example of what you may see if you were infected by ransomware:
Ransomware and malware prevention
Never click on any link in any email that was sent to you by an unknown person, especially if it was found in your spam folder. If you do not know the person the email came from, do not click on any link inside of the email. If you do know the person you should also be cautious, especially if you are not expecting them to send you any media to download. It is best to find out from that person if they have sent you anything, before you download the content or click on a link contained in the email.
Do not visit websites that claim to have direct downloads to the latest movies, computer games or other software and media. These websites are almost always illegal and will try to infect your computer with malware via popups on their websites and/or the media you download from them. You can almost be certain that the software you download from these websites will contain malware.
Make sure your web browser is up to date to prevent drive by downloading. Drive by downloading usually takes advantage of a vulnerability in your web browser. These vulnerabilities usually get patched (fixed) quickly via a web browser update.
USB Thumb Drive Safety
Malware can spread from one computer to another via sharing flash drives or external (portable) hard drives between computers. In most cases your antivirus software will detect suspect files on USB flash drives or portable hard drives, but there are cases where malware may not get detected automatically. To ensure the flash drive or hard drive is free from any malware you should do a virus scan on the drive.
You can perform this scan by opening up the interface of your antivirus software, choosing to scan a single drive and selecting your flash drive or external hard drive.
I recommend you install the free version of Malwarebytes. You can download it here. Malwarebytes will create a menu entry that you can access by right clicking on any storage drive/device via “my computer”. You can then simply click on the “Scan with Malwarebytes” option to perform a virus scan on the selected drive. (see the picture steps below:)
Right-click on the device(drive) and select “Scan with Malwarebytes”
A window will open, showing the scan progress.
Once the scan is complete, click on “Done.” You can then close the window.
What if Malwarebytes finds malware on my computer?
Malwarebytes should automatically ‘quarantine’ all files containing malware. When files are quarantined, they are unable to take action on your computer or affect other files. If Malwarebytes warns you about threats found on your computer and asks for an action, you should choose ‘quarantine’ manually. From the ‘quarantine’ interface within Malwarebytes, you will be able to individually and permanently delete all harmful files from your computer.
Antivirus Software: Which Antivirus Software to Use?
There are many antivirus software options on the market today, each with different strengths. Some packages are free while others are not. It depends on what your needs are - for most individuals, small business owners and entrepreneurs the free options are perfectly fine.
Microsoft Defender Antivirus
If you are using a computer with Microsoft Windows I will recommend you use the included anti-virus from Microsoft. Windows Defender Antivirus will do a perfectly fine job protecting your computer from malware and it won’t cost you anything as it comes standard with Microsoft Windows.
I highly recommend using Microsoft Defender Antivirus in combination with the free version of Malwarebytes. This combination used in conjunction with the practical advice given in this article should ensure that your system stays malware free.
Paid Antivirus Software
Most paid antivirus software today work on a subscription basis. There are many different options that will provide different benefits over one another. If you are considering a paid antivirus, I recommend you have a look at the comparison list over at tomsguide.com
To learn more about malware visit malwarebytes.com/malware/
Applying the tips and tricks in this article will help you cultivate respsonsible online and computing habits. Coupled with our software suggestions, you should be all set in protecting yourself from malicious phishing scams and malware. Do you have any questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments! Share this article far and wide with anyone who may need a little help in staying safe online.comments powered by Disqus
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