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Recognizing Online Risks

National Cyber Security Awareness Month

As a reminder, October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.   This week’s topic is Recognizing Online Risks.

Last week, we talked about looking at URLs to recognize malicious links last week. These are not the only threats online.  Pop-up windows, plug-ins and other downloads expose you to security risks.

Pop-up windows appear, expectedly or unexpectedly, on top of web pages.  Pop-ups generally include an alert message as well as an action button.  Your browser’s pop-up blocker can stop most pop-ups, but some can get through.  If you’re on a Southern supplied computer, we have the pop-up blocker turned on with exceptions to allow certain Southern systems to use pop-ups.  If you are on your own computer, make sure your pop-up blocker is turned on and you have exceptions for web sites you visit that you need to allow pop-ups from.  If you are expecting a pop-up, it should be safe to click.  Examples that would generally be safe are:

  • You started a download from a reputable website
  • Your online banking site alerts you that your session is about to expire
  • You click to watch a video on a trusted website.

If a pop-up occurs that you did not expect, don’t click on it.  Examples are:

  • A warning that you need to scan your computer for viruses.  This is very common and malicious.  There is a current Microsoft support scam that uses this technique.
  • An alert urging you to update your browser or other software.
  • An unexpected ad with an offer that seems too good to be true. 

If you see an unexpected pop-up window, DO NOT click anywhere inside this window.  You can close it using the X at the top right of the window, but remain alert for any activities that may be triggered by closing the window.  If you are directed to another website or app store, close your browser.  If an unexpected download begins, cancel it.

Plugins and codecs are software that work with your web browser to provide enhanced features, such as video players.  Some are trustworthy; many are not.  Always research any plug-in before installing it. Never agree to a download that you did not initiate.

Deceptive search results – Developers of malicious websites can use tricks to move their sites to the top of search results in Google, Yahoo, etc.  Again, examine the URL of the search result carefully before clicking on it.  Look at last week’s post again to understand URLs.

Pirated Content – licensed music, movies and software that is shared illegally must be avoided.  Scammers use pirated content and pornographic material to tempt users and often deliver malware with this content.  Steer clear of sites that offer “cracked” software, access to pre-release versions of albums or movies, and pornographic material.

Incredible Deals – If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.  Avoid ads and offers that promise free gift cards and sites that offer amazing discounts on premium products.  Be wary of deals given in exchange for personal data (birth date, address, phone number, etc.).  I’ve heard many people say “Hey, it can’t hurt anything to try.”   But, it can hurt if your computer is infected as a result.