by Terry Rogers
Today’s scammers have grown more sophisticated than they were less than a decade ago. Although email and infected scripts, which are usually embedded in advertisements, are still the most common way a home computer or laptop can be infected, criminals and scam artists have learned other methods to damage your computer or laptop. Tech support scams are increasing and are one of the most common scams today, according to Pat Coulter and Bryan Eshelman, Microsoft Certified Technicians with Response Computer Group.
“Scammers will call, pretending to be from Microsoft or another major company, and tell you that they have detected viruses or other issues on your PC,” Mr. Eshelman said. “Popups claiming to have detected viruses is another scam. The popup will not close and it provides a number to call for tech support. With either of these methods, they offer to fix the issue and ask you to give them remote access to your PC. Once connected to your PC, they show you things on your PC that they say indicate infections or that you have been hacked. What they are showing you are, in reality, normal messages and items on almost any PC. While connected, they ask for credit card information so they can enroll you in their cleanup or maintenance program. If you decline, they delete files, set a syskey password to prevent login or perform other malicious acts on your PC.”
According to Mr. Coulter, if a computer can access the internet, it is on a network, so it is important to understand that, even at home your computer is vulnerable. Too often, home users believe that since they are not “networked,” their computer is safe from hackers. “I don’t personally know anyone who uses a general-purpose computer today without internet access,” Mr. Coulter said. “If a computer does not have internet access, it could still be impacted by plugging in an infected USB drive. There are other methods of infecting stand-alone PCs, but these require close physical proximity and are not commonly seen or used in the wild.”
The primary method used by hackers today is the same one that has been in use for the last three decades, and that is social engineering. In addition to the phone calls or popup ads, scammers also use email to send messages that claim an account has been compromised, a package needs to be delivered, a bill is overdue, the user has been caught viewing porn or any number of other scenarios. If the user clicks the link in the email or opens an attached file, the PC is compromised. Mr. Coulter suggests that users be suspicious of anyone who calls claiming to be from Microsoft, Windows or any other company. In addition, any popups not generated by an antivirus software or any email related to confidential accounts should be viewed suspiciously.
“Banking or credit card information can be stolen, personal documents or photos can be encrypted to prevent access,” Mr. Eshelman said regarding what can happen to a computer that is hacked. “Unwanted files can install browser toolbars, hijack browser homepages, track web browsing and show additional advertisements. These will also slow the performance of your PC. What can you do if this happens? Run a scan with your antivirus software, but that may not be enough. If you have any questions or are unsure if your scan removed the unwanted file or program, take it to a reputable company to have it cleaned.”
The best way to protect your computer is to keep current with security updates from Microsoft. Mr. Eshelman and Mr. Coulter also recommend keeping a current version of antivirus programming running. Users should not grant anyone they do not know permission to access their computer.
“Do not believe phone calls claiming that viruses have been detected on your PC,” Mr. Eshelman said. “Do not call any numbers that are on popups claiming your PC is infected. Be cynical and suspicious of anything you see online. Research any software you have questions about. Don’t open any links or attachments in an email unless you are 100 percent sure of the contents. If you receive an email purporting to be from a company you do business with, don’t follow any links, but open a web browser and manually type in the company web address.”
Although anti-virus software is not 100 percent protective, it is better than having no anti-virus software installed. Mr. Coulter states that there are many things that the average person does not want on their computer and anti-virus software is not going to prevent all of them from installing, simply because they may not be viruses. Anti-virus software will block malicious files from being downloaded, but may not protect you against Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs).
“PUPs are legitimate programs that get bundled with other software,” Mr. Coulter said. “These are usually part of “free” downloads. Many of these programs contain adware, install toolbars or claim to help seed up your PC. Whenever installing or updating a program on your PC, be sure to read what is on the screen. You should have options to not install these additional programs. Run a single antivirus program and supplement it with an adware or spyware detection program you can run manually as needed. Two or more antivirus programs are going to slow down your PC and may conflict with each other.”
If your computer is running very slowly or you believe it has been infected, Mr. Coulter and Mr. Eshelman suggest bringing it to a reputable computer shop like Response Computer Group to get it running as it should. For more information on the services available through Response Computer Group, individuals can call 302-725-3314.
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