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How Cyber Aware Are You?

We take you back to basics to make sure you have the information needed to stay safe online.

As the online scam season is just getting started, we celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness month with a quick overview of autumn's best security advice, to make sure you are aware of how to protect your privacy and to stay safe online.

Back To Basics

We often hear terms like spyware, adware, and viruses used interchangeably. While all can be classified as malware - malicious software that can put your personal information at risk - there are important differences between these threats.

  • Adware is used for marketing and tracking. It tends to be more annoying than malicious, with pop-up ads and other unwanted behavior. However, some adware is helpful and welcome to users (Weatherbug, for example).

  • Spyware attaches itself to individual computers to perform functions like tracking Internet navigation and stealing information.

  • Viruses use computers to spread from one to another. They often perform a function that can erase files and processes from your computer.

  • Worms are similar to viruses and can replicate both within the victim's computer as well as by spreading to others on the network through various means.

Methods of Infection

As many as 90 percent of U.S. home computer users have been infected with spyware, reports show. How do you get infected? Spyware can worm its way into your computer even if you are careful while surfing the Internet. Malicious applications are typically bundled as a hidden component of freeware or shareware programs that can be downloaded from media-supported sites.

The most common methods of infection are through exploits of unpatched operating systems, web browsers, and application/software programs. Other methods of attack include social network scams, e-mail, peer to peer file sharing, downloading, and instant messaging.

How to Stay Safe

The best ways to stay safe online are to prepare your PC with the right tools, and to use caution and common sense online.

  1. Think before you click
    Know that malicious threats will be coming in from a variety of angles — websites, e-mail, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, included. Preparing your PC with anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall (and making sure the software is always up-to-date) is critical in keeping safe. But, even with the best protection, you need to stay aware and cautious of the threats you may encounter online. Be suspicious when browsing the Web, clicking links, and responding to messages on networking sites and in email.

  2. Beware of what you share
    Many of us don't realize that we post more personal information on social and business networking sites than we really should. Consider what people can find out about you. For example, have you posted things such as date of birth, email address, city where you live, phone number, or employer on your profile page? Or have you perhaps posted your resume on an online job site? This information could potentially be used to get more information about you and to steal your identity. Take the time to learn more about the privacy settings on any networking sites you use, and keep postings of your personal details to a minimum. Also, try to minimize the number of third party apps that you allow to access your account - and learn how to remove the ones you no longer use.

  3. Make sure the website you're visiting is secure
    Always look for the pad lock symbol and the secure URL. Also check to make sure you spelled the URL correctly — to make sure you landed on the site you intended to visit. If you have any doubts, enter a fake password to log into your account. Many fraudulent sites will often accept false information.

  4. Keep an eye out for scams taking advantage of the down economy
    Cyber criminals, just like their counterparts in the real world, have been seen taking advantage of global economic confusion and fears to profit from the unwitting, using techniques aimed at the unemployed and those trying to make or save extra money. Online traps being set have included bogus or misleading job ads and offers, and ploys targeting banks, financial institutions and money lenders. Remember, the old adage applies online: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

  5. Get your news from a reliable source
    Playing off of breaking news and events continues to be a popular way for online scammers to locate their next victim. In September, malware writers piggybacked on news of the anniversary of the September 11 tragedy to setup websites pushing rogue security software, and used search engine manipulation techniques to boost the scope of the scams. Be aware that you may stumble across these types of misleading and opportunistic "news reports" simply through a search for a hot topic in your favorite search engine. To avoid the scams, get your news directly from a trusted online source.

More information about Cyber Security Awareness Month and how to stay safe online is available on or in the Lavasoft Security Center.

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According to a recent survey, about 25% of households with a facebook account don't use the site's privacy controls or were not aware of them. about 40% of social network users posted their full date of birth online, opening themselves up to identity theft.
- Consumer Reports' State of the Net 2010
Cyber Security Month
What can you do to help promote National Cyber Security Awareness Month? Visit for numerous tools and resources on how to stay safe online and raise awareness about the importance of online security.
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