For the past several months I’ve been watching closely, as more and more Blog discussions have been taking place around the topic of search engines results and malware.
The latest news on this issue from Panda Security’s Oxygen 3 E-bulletin on IT security, indicates that Cyber-crooks are unrelenting in their chase to infect web search results. According to Panda “there is a steady increase in the use of custom-built websites designed to drop malicious code on computers, or even the manipulation of legitimate pages in order to infect users with malware.”
PandaLabs maintains that cyber-crooks have begun to opt for a new technique: the manipulation of search engine results, or seeding websites among the top results returned by these engines. When a potential victim visits one of these sites the likelihood of the downloading of malicious code onto the computer by exploiting existing vulnerabilities is high.
A good example would be; a user runs a search for “cheap flights” and the search engine returns the malicious web page as one of the most popular sites. Users that visit this page will have a high chance of becoming infected.
There are several ways that this can occur. Cyber-crooks can exploit vulnerabilities on the server hosting the web page to insert an iFrame, (an HTML element which makes it possible to embed another HTML document inside the main document). The iFrame can then activate the download of malicious code by exploiting additional vulnerabilities on the visiting machine.
Alternatively, a new web page can be built, with iFrames inserted, that can lead to malware downloads. This new web page appears to be legitimate. In the example mentioned earlier, the web page would appear to be a typical page offering cheap flights.
Another method is the insertion of false dialogue boxes, fake toolbars, and more on sites; all designed to load destructive malware which could include rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots.
For more information on this, and other threats checkout Spyware Sucks, a great Blog that will keep you up to date on the latest risks to your online safety.
So what can you do to ensure you are protected, or to reduce the chances you will become a victim?
As I have pointed out in the past on this Blog, the following are actions you can take to protect your computer system:
• Don’t open unknown email attachments
• Don’t run programs of unknown origin
• Disable hidden filename extensions
• Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched
• Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use
• Disable scripting features in email programs
• Make regular backups of critical data
• Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised
• Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer.
• Install a personal firewall on the computer.
• Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet.
• Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments.
Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.
The free software listed below, in my view, provides better than average malware protection.
avast! 4 Home Edition
This anti virus app is a real fighter, scanning files on demand and on access, including email attachments. Let’s you know when it detects mal-ware through its shield function. An important feature is a boot-time scan option which removes mal-ware that can’t be removed any other way.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
Similarly, this program scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule. Scans email; incoming and outgoing. For those on Vista, your in luck, it’s Vista-ready. I have been using this application since its release and it now forms part of my front line defenses. I recommend this one highly.
SpyCatcher does a good job of cleaning out spy-ware and at stopping further infestation. In my view however, it’s not as reliable as AVG Anti-Spyware.
In my view, Ad-Aware 2007 Free is the best free spyware and adware remover available. It does a relatively good job of protecting against known data-mining, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers and tracking components. The only downside with the free version; real-time protection is not included.
ThreatFire 3 blocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. Again, this is one of the security applications that forms part of my front line defenses. I have found it to have high success rate at blocking mal-ware based on analysis of behavior. Highly recommend this one!
Comodo Firewall Pro
The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. I have been using this application for 6 months and I continue to feel very secure. It resists being forcibly terminated and it works as well, or better, than any firewall I’ve paid for. This is one I highly recommend. Amazing that it’s free!
The free version of ZoneAlarm lacks the features of ZoneAlarm Pro’s firewall. Its program control asks you regularly whether to allow programs; for some this can get to be intrusive and annoying. But it’s been around forever it seems, and it can’t be shut down, or out, by mal-ware.
Do you want to get a better understanding of what programs are being added to your computer? Then WinPatrol is the program for you. With WinPatrol, in your system tray, you can monitor system areas that are often changed by malicious programs. You can monitor your startup programs and services, cookies and current tasks. Should you need to, WinPatrol allows you to terminate processes and enable, or disable, startup programs. There are additional features that make WinPatrol a very powerful addition to your security applications.
Surfing the Internet without using Sandboxie is, to me, like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Deadly! This application creates a “Sandboxed” protected environment on your machine within which you browse the net. Data that is written to your hard drive is simply eliminated, (or not, your choice), when the sandbox is closed. Utilizing this application allows you to surf the web without the risk of infecting your system with mal-ware or other nasties. This is another security application I have been using for over 6 months and it has yet to let me down. Highly recommended.
Snoop Free Privacy Shield
Snoop Free Privacy Shield is a powerful application that guards your keyboard, screen and open windows from all spy software. I have been using this application for quite some time, and I have been amazed at the number of programs that have requested access to my keyboard and screen. Particularly, programs that I am in the process of installing. If you’re serious about privacy, this is a must have addition to your security toolbox.