On Halloween night, ghouls and goblins abound, aiming to scare anyone they can. And though these mini monsters only show up on your doorstep one night of the year, did you know that actual monsters exist online all year-round? It’s true. Virtual villains are constantly attempting to wreak havoc on innocent computer users. Don’t let sinister shopping scams, spooky spammers, and devilish data thieves get you this Halloween. Read on to learn how to protect yourself online.
All tricks, no treats
Hackers and scammers are always trying to victimize innocent online users, and the Halloween season inspires some truly scary stuff. Keep an eye out for some of these spooky scams:
Just as seasonal costume stores pop up in your area each fall, so do online costume stores. But these stores are not all legitimate retailers. Some virtual costume sellers are actually scammers eager to get their hands on your credit card number. Tip: If you’re opting to buy a costume online, make sure you are buying from a secured site (the URL will start with “https” with a small lock icon next to it) to avoid falling victim to a fraudulent “store” that leaves you without a costume – and without cash.
A lot of holiday-themed content spreads online each season, and Halloween is no different. While searching online, beware of popup ads for Halloween goods, costumes, discounts, etc., or fishy sites that repeatedly redirect you to a new page to find the content you’re looking for. For example, one known scam lures users to a page for “free Halloween skeleton templates,” but actually redirects to a page offering video of nude celebrities (which you have to download an infected video player to view). These types of sneaky ploys are meant to subversively infect your computer with malware. Tip: Activate your anti-virus and anti-phishing to keep these evil online spirits from haunting you. Keep your computer and security software up-to-date as well.
Beware of links sent from unknown addresses or suspicious-looking messages from even your known contacts, especially if promoting Halloween-related products, jackpots, gift cards, e-cards, online games, products, etc. This type of phishing encourages users to click a corrupt link that can infect your computer and help hackers steal information. You should also run screaming from any “scary” video clip that asks you to download an accompanying video player, which may be also be infected with malware. Tip: In addition to anti-virus software, make sure your 2-way firewall is also turned on.
Scary Social Media
This time of year, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are aflutter with Halloween shout-outs and the like. Unfortunately, online bad guys use these popular sites to terrorize online villagers (AKA, your friends). Beware of sketchy links or unusual content posted by “friends” whose accounts may have been hacked (do you really think your grandma would send you a sexy-costume link?). Tip: Flag any suspicious or inappropriate content and delete them – also remember to give your contacts a heads up if something seems unusual.
Now and year-round, your computer is at risk of becoming infected by malware that turns it into a zombie drone ready to follow a remote hacker’s orders (read more about these botnets here. http://www.zonealarm.com/blog/2011/10/what-is-a-botnet.html). Tip: Prevent this real-life horror story by protecting your computer with a 2-way firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware. Make sure you create strong passwords, and don’t open unknown emails, attachments, or odd-looking links.
Have you noticed that your computer is slow, constantly crashing, or that certain programs don’t work for you anymore? Despite your best efforts, a virus, worm, or other malware may have possessed your computer. Tip: Run regular check-ups. And always update your security software and operating system to ensure you’re running the latest protections.