Not many of us would question the output of a GPS inquiry since it is a technology we are familiar and comfortable with.
An even more familiar technology to the seasoned web surfer is the Internet search engine, and just like most familiar technologies we are comfortable with, we are not likely to question a search engines output.
The question is though, should we question the output? How sure are we that the results are untainted and free of potential harmful exposure to malware or worst?
Recent comments on this issue in Panda Security’s Oxygen 3 E-bulletin on IT security, indicates that Cyber-crooks continue to be 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.
Let’s take, as an example, a typical user running a search for “great vacation spots” on one of the popular search engines. Unknown to the user, the search engine returns a malicious or compromised web page as one of the most popular sites. Users with less than complete Internet security who visit this page will have an extremely high chance of becoming infected.
There are a number of 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 great vacation spots.
One more common 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.
Unfortunately, since Cyber-crooks are relentless in their pursuit of your money, and in the worst case scenario your identity, you can be sure that additional threats are being developed or are currently being deployed.
So what can you do to ensure you are protected, or to reduce the chances you will become a victim?
The following are actions you can take to protect your computer system, your money and your identity:
Install an Internet Browser add-on such as WOT (my personal favorite), which provides detailed test results on a site’s safety; protecting you from security threats including spyware, adware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, and online scams
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.
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.
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.
In my view, Ad-Aware is the best free 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.
ThreatFireblocks 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!
The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. 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!
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 is a powerful application that guards your keyboard, screen and open windows from all spy software. If you’re serious about privacy, this is a must have addition to your security toolbox. Unfortunately this application does not operate under Vista.
A big thank you to Dave Brooks, a professional techie from New Hampshire, and a frequent guest writer on this site, for reminding me that this very real security problem has not gone away.
Checkout Dave’s last article “Let’s Talk About Backups”, which was a huge hit on this site.