According to Symantec, last year 65% of malicious links in news feeds used shortened URLs. Of these, 73% were clicked 11 times or more.
What to do? Most browsers have third-party extensions or plug-ins (such as Interclue on Firefox) that allow you to hover over a shortened link to see its longer form before clicking.
The site LongURL.org allows you to paste in a copied short URL to see where a link would really take you.
You log on to websites a dozen times a day for email, bank accounts, shopping, bill payments, Facebook, your company intranet and any number of other things.
Each time, you're at risk. The easiest way for an identity thief to set up shop is to use logins as a gateway to personal data. The pickings are even easier when you use the same password, or slight variations, for multiple sites and services. One approach for the malevolent is a "brute force attack," using a software program to spew a barrage of number and letter combinations until one picks the lock.
Another approach is using a "key logger," a program that records every character you type and transmits information back to whoever managed to sneak the installer onto your computer via a virus or Trojan horse. With minimal guesswork they can figure out passwords, credit card numbers and anything else you transmitted.
Making your password more complex may stall a brute force attempt, but a key logger won't be challenged much.
Numerous programs are dedicated to the task of protecting your password. One simple way to start protecting yourself is to type a series of random letters and characters into a text file, with your passwords among them. Instead of typing in your password, copy and paste it from the text file into the login field. All the key logger will see is a click of your mouse or a simple control-V.
Yard sale danger
Going to sell off an old computer on eBay or at a flea market? You may think you wiped your hard drive clean, but the recycle bin is hardly the final word in taking out the trash.
Data you drop in the bin aren't really erased, just stashed away and hidden elsewhere on the drive until other bits and bytes write over it.
Don't just rely on clicking "delete." Windows, Apple's OS and most flavors of Linux (as well as software you can buy retail) can be used to overwrite your disk multiple times, completely erasing your data so well it would meet military standards.
It may seem generous to leave the operating system and programs intact for a buyer, but don't. Only a complete erasure will make sure stray files or bits of personal information, including stored passwords, are not still hiding in the corners of your C drive.
A familiar threat
Email is great, isn't it? You can conduct business by day and catch up with family and friends at night.
Unfortunately, we all have that aunt or grandparent who perpetually sends flash-based greeting cards, cute animations and sparkly affirmations. The emails, often forwarded among hundreds or thousands of people, can have hazardous files embedded in them. At the very least, your email address is being passed along again and again, an invitation to spammers and schemers.
It would be heartless to suggest that you never again open anything sent from those repeat offenders. But turning off the "preview pane" in your email program can help keep some malicious code from launching.
Going to "tools," "options" and "read" in Outlook or similar email programs lets you set a preference so all messages appear in plain text. This not only eliminates the epilepsy-inducing unicorns and teddy bears; it stops an embedded virus dead in its tracks. Just be sure to never download anything from a suspect message.
Clicks for kicks
If a pop-up ad flashes onscreen, your first instinct is to click it away. But some pop-ups are built so what appears to be a "no" button or "X" might as well read "click here to download malware."
If an ad seems suspicious, won't minimize or demands your permission "to navigate away" or some such lie, don't take chances. In Windows, hit control-alt-delete and shut down your browser manually or end the "process" it is running. Don't take the chance of clicking around on it.
Through a combination of either laziness, generosity or lack of know-how, many people fail to password-protect home Wi-Fi connections. When they're left open, hackers can gain access to your computer through the connection, using it to steal data or make your computer a "zombie" infecting other machines, or even downloading illegal materials that will track back to your IP address.
In addition to setting up a password, you may want to take the extra step of scanning your modem's manual and adjusting settings so your connection is no longer "discoverable" -- meaning it is invisible to others, and devices sniffing around for a network will have a much harder time finding it.
This article was reported by Joe Mont for TheStreet.
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