Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cyber Hygiene

U.S. officials are asking all American netizens to practice good 'cyber hygiene' as a matter of national security. Most of it boils down to not clicking on links in suspicious e-mails. Now, if you're here, chances are you're way past that; The Cyberculturalist is aimed at advanced netizens, and though we sometimes post information suitable for all levels of mastery, we're more about history and the future of the Web than anything else. Still, I'm constantly shocked by how many people do very stupid things - such as click on links in suspicious e-mails!

Of course, phishers and general spammers continually get craftier, so it isn't nearly as easy to know which are "suspicious" e-mails and which are not. But let's get real here real fast: Do you really think a website you've never heard of is giving out $1 million and that you've already won? Have you ever heard of a contest which can only grant you the money "you've already won" after it knows your account number and PIN? Do you have to give the casino $1,000 to hold before it can give you your winnings?

Long before it became commonly known as a scam, I knew better than to send an African prince from Nairubi, or whatever, $2000! "Your friend from Africa?" Really? I've only ever had two friends from Africa - one got deported for dealing cocaine and I lost touch with the other because he was always borrowing money from me! Not because he was African; because he was a cokehead, too!

No offense, but some people deserve to get taken! It's their own avarice which fells them, and clever spam artists already know it. I genuinely feel for the people who unknowingly send their information to what appear to be legitimate e-mails sent from legitimate websites to which they belong - we've all received those PayPal e-mails, after all. Of course, the best practice is to remain wary, and those of us who have been online for even a short while are already too cynical to buy into 95% of those scams.

However, officials note the phishing e-mails of today are far more specific, targeting systems admins and other "key" players with very sophisticated e-mails which appear legitimate to even the most cynical observer. Hackers know that if they can compromise that single recipient, they can compromise the entire network! And they are getting a lot of personal information about people through their social networking profiles.

So, let's go over this one more time:

No financial institution - nor any other, legitimate website or business - should ever ask for your personal information. If they do, I guarantee there is a way to change that information on their actual website. Do not click the link included in the e-mail; go directly to the actual website and either contact a representative using the "Contact Us" options or go directly into your account to change your information. It really is that simple.

Also, take a moment to forward the e-mail to the website from which it purports to be; send PayPal all spoof e-mails you receive, for instance. They have far more resources and are better-equipped to handle the matter. Plus, it helps reduce spam in general.

Never reply directly to any of these e-mails! Not even to say, "I know this is a spoof e-mail, please do not contact me again." Also, do not click any of the included links, including the "Click Here to be Removed" links. Go directly to the website from your browser and check your account or contact a representative from there.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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