When YOU Become Part of the Problem

Even if you don’t fall for “phishing,” there is a disturbing trend that might catch you which could make you part of the spam problem — and destroy your reputation among your friends! Pay careful attention to how this works: I see it all the time among my own friends and, especially, readers.

The sad thing is, victims are typically lulled into complacency because the e-mail that spreads this comes from one of your friends! At least, it looks like it’s from someone you know. It may even come “from” their real address.

The mail does everything it can to get you to click a link — to a site that has a virus. This is no ordinary virus: it’s not there to destroy your computer, or erase your files. No, they want your computer to be in good working order!

There are two things these virus programs want to do on your computer:

  • Get your banking information, investment account logins, credit card numbers, and other information so that the organized crime figures can steal your money, and
  • Send mail to your friends — using the address book on your computer or in your online e-mail account — from your real e-mail address and under your name, with the intent of getting them to click the same link you did, which infected your computer, so the cycle can repeat.

That’s using your hard-earned reputation with your friends with the intent of stealing from them. Is that something you really want to be associated with? That’s why it’s hugely important to safeguard your computer: to keep it from being a “bot” for organized crime — which may be domestic or, more likely, foreign.

What is a “Bot”?

A “bot” (short for robot) is a compromised computer connected to the Internet. One “bot” is not enough, since security-aware computer users can quickly get rid of them. No, they want thousands — even tens of thousands — of compromised computers to be part of a network of computers (a “botnet”) to be used for malicious purposes by whomever controls it (a “bot herder” or “bot master”).

When the controller wants to do something — say, disrupt a web site with a Denial of Service Attack, break into a bank or government computer, or send a flood of spam, they use your computer to do it so they can keep their hands clean (and their Internet provider happy). And who gets their Internet connection shut down when spam or other malicious garbage is spewed from your computer? Certainly not them! You do!

Are you getting the idea that it’s truly important to pay attention to this stuff?!

Use anti-virus tools. Ask for help from a knowledgeable techie friend when your computer acts strangely, and (especially!) when your friends tell you they got spam from you!

And It’s Not Just Your Computer

Even if you’re very careful with your computer, there could still be problems like this. How? Your webmail and other online accounts (such as Facebook) can be broken into. Once into your webmail, they get your address list so they can send spam to your friends in your name, trying to get them to buy garbage — or get a virus in their computer.

Worse, these criminals can go to major banks and click the “I forgot my password” links, putting in your address. No harm if you don’t have an account at the various banks (and brokerages, and other money-holding places) they try. But if you do, because they have access to your e-mail, now they have your bank password! See why this is so important?

In late 2011, it was revealed that more than 600,000 Facebook accounts are broken into every day — about seven per second! Trust me: they’re not interested in your family photos, they want access to your friends there. They’ll post spam on your Facebook account trying to get your family members and friends to click it. Use good passwords, and learn about the tools your mail provider and other sites provide to keep your account secure! Otherwise, you will become a huge part of the problem.

Next Topic: Urban Legends: Innocuous E-Mail Can Still Be Irritating