Security software vendor PC Tools says that February presents a new risk to consumers who frequent virtual networking websites and who are searching for love online-a group otherwise known as the “digitally active.”

On January 23, PC Tools reported on a new computer worm disguised as a Valentine’s Day program: Waledac worm victims can be infected through links distributed in email or instant messages that redirect consumers to exploited websites, which allows cybercriminals to gain control over the user’s computer.

PC Tools says the “digitally active” are in a higher risk category than other consumers because they frequently use new and alternative ‚ technologies to look for love, such as instant messaging, social networking, dating and adult web sites, popular targets for cybercriminals. According to a recent study by Web of Trust of 19 million web sites, adult websites pose the single most significant security threat for Internet users.

The “digitally active” are also regularly posting their personal information on social networking and dating websites, only to wake up the “morning after” to find their computer has been compromised and that they are a potential victim for identity theft and financial loss.

Here’s a little checklist:

  • Do you visit adult websites?
  • Do you use your credit card to purchase items when you visit?
  • Do you have your birth date, street address, or any other personal information listed on any social networking sites or dating sites?
  • Do you often open links through IM or email?
  • Do you access the Internet without protection (i.e. security software, browser and firewall protection)?
  • “Answering ‘yes’ increases a user’s vulnerability to DTD’s,” said Greene.‚  “That’s why PC Tools has developed a list of common sense tips so the ‘digitally active’ can play safe while online.”

    PC Tools’ tips for playing it safe for the “Digitally Active.”

    1. PRACTICE SAFE EX-CHANGES – Be careful with e- cards

    While many people trade e- cards on Valentine’s Day, birthdays and special occasions, be careful about opening e-cards and the associated links-even during an IM or social networking chat. Check the address of the link carefully before clicking on it. If the email or IM is from an address you are unfamiliar with or the link is to a Web site you are unfamiliar with, don’t open it-you could be exposing yourself to a DTD. Likewise, confirm with your friend that they have sent you a file or link to confirm its legitimacy.

    2. LOOK FOR LOVE IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES – Looks can be deceiving…

    Just as our virtual networking techniques become increasingly sophisticated so too are the techniques applied by cybercriminals such that it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between legitimate websites and hacker-created websites.‚ Both adult and dating Websites are known to have a high incidence of malicious code that could steal your identity and finances. It is also important to note that legitimate and reputable sites have also been a target for cybercriminals-be warned, looks can be deceiving! To avoid this, first be on the alert and be aware, only visit and download from websites that are recommended by well-known and reputable sources and never visit any website without protection.

    3. DON’T BECOME DATE BAIT AND OVERLY PROMISCUOUS – Don’t give out too many personal details

    Social networking, Instant Messaging (IM) accounts, adult websites and online dating sites should only require your basic contact details (for example, name, billing address and contact number) to register for services.‚  Consumers should demonstrate caution if a website requests too much information. Contact them by phone to find out why they need so much information, how they plan to use it and if they have a privacy and security policy to protect you and use your commonsense when updating an online profile. Also, don’t be complacent and use the auto-complete feature in your browser to save your passwords, logins or other personal information-its prime real estate for the cybercriminals.

    4. KISS AND TELL – Keep records all online transactions

    If a website requires payment for any reason, check out its refund policies, privacy policy and legal notices. These documents should be readily available on the company’s websites and are a good indication that a site is reputable.‚ Consumers should always print and save records of any online transactions, including the product or service description, price and the receipt of payment. If the site turns out to be fraudulent, you’ll need this information to advise the relevant authorities in order to try to get your money back. If you are going to transact online then have a separate credit card for online purchases only that has a low credit limit and is not linked to any other accounts.

    5. PRACTICE CONSENTUAL UPDATING – Ensure your computer is up to date

    Software companies continually issue updates to fix new security flaws, ensure you update your operating system, browser and security software regularly. Also use a web browser that is known to be relatively safe from Internet threats and vulnerabilities to ensure your computer isn’t exposed to threats where your personal and financial details, as well as your browsing habits, can be accessed by cybercriminals.

    6. ALWAYS USE PROTECTION – Install comprehensive security protection

    Finally, when being active, both online and offline, always use protection! There are tools consumers can use to protect themselves from DTD’s like spyware, viruses, Trojans, rootkits, and other malware. Leading independent publications recommend installing comprehensive behavior-based security software such as PC Tools Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus or PC Tools Internet Security.

    Make sure your security product of choice has real-time protection, proactive behavioral protection, which helps protect against new and unknown threats, an advanced firewall to block unauthorized parties trying to access your computer via the Internet and browser protection which warns you about potentially malicious sites and identifies browser exploits.

    Get a free copy of PC Tools’ Internet Security Suite 2009 on the Blast Magazine freebies page!

About The Author

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at [email protected]. Tweet @johnguilfoil.

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