- Make sure your anti-virus is up-to-date and updating all software It is extremely important for us all to take the time to become familiar with our anti-virus software – when it is turned on, or off; when it is updating regularly, and how to respond if it ever gives warnings.
- Back up copies of data If you are backing up data to an external device like a USB flash drive or an external hard disk, you should disconnect the device when it is not actually in the process of backing up, so that it cannot be infected if your computer is attacked.
- Scrutinize links and files contained in emails This is the single most important thing that you must do. NEVER click on a link in an email if you are not absolutely certain that it is legitimate. In the case of the link that we included above, for example… the link is detailed and is directly related to our detailed description of what the link is about. That should assure you that it is not dangerous. Without that kind of legitimization, you should NOT have clicked on it if you received it in a message.
- Only download software from trusted sources See our recent column and blog post titled “Have I Reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?” which goes into detail on the subject of bogus web sites and software sources.
By now we are all familiar with the messages from our “friends” that didn’t really come from them, because hacking of address books is as common as this year’s flu. The bogus messages always contain a link to bad stuff. There is one simple little thing that we believe could be very helpful in the fight against this kind of spam: You should take the time to create a distinctive signature that appears at the end of all of your email messages. If your regular correspondents get used to seeing that signature (and perhaps you might mention this to them) then they will be rightly suspicious of a message supposedly sent by you that does not contain it. Make your signature eye-catching and distinctive, and your friends will eventually learn that if they ever got a message from you that didn’t contain it, they should suspect that it is spam and immediately delete it.
My signature at the end of this posting might seem like overkill, but my friends have mentioned it to me, which means that they have noticed it and might also take note if I got hacked and it were missing.
Talos, the digital threat division of Cisco Systems reported in January that more than 86% of all email is spam, and we can be extremely grateful that the email providers are now successfully blocking over 99% of it. All the same, fraudulent email carries the most significant threats to our computer use. Even if we could just avoid clicking on those spurious links in the spam messages, we would be making a huge step in avoiding malware.
My example of a “distinctive signature”: