Newsletter - sign up here
Search Webster
Webster's pieces from The Oldie
Webster's Webwatch

Safety First

January 2012

Perhaps I am too jumpy, but if you spend as much time in the cyber world as I do, it is easy to believe that menace lurks in every corner, and the evil-doers are bending all their efforts to take advantage of me and my computer.

However, jumpy or not, and at the risk of striking a slightly serious note at a cheerful time of year, I need to return to the subject of computer security.  There has recently been a major outbreak of a recurring menace that has targeted several Oldie readers, and so I bet many more are at risk.

You may already have been a victim, and not even know it.  Have you recently received a short email from a friend, probably unsigned but from their genuine address, which invited you to click on a link?  If you click, the odds are that you will be taken somewhere selling dubious products, or, worse, a site that will unload something sinful into the guts of your computer. 

You might wonder how these crooks managed to duplicate your friend’s email address.  The worrying truth is that they didn’t, they simply managed to penetrate his email account and send these emails to everyone in his address book.  So, the emails really did come from him, or at least from his account.  You can be forgiven for being fooled, if you were.

But you should take steps: if you received the email you should delete it, and if you clicked on the link you should run a scan of your computer using your anti-virus software.  The “sender” who has been hijacked should change their email password and consider warning all his contacts.

It’s pretty unpleasant, but one benefit of this sort of nuisance is that it has seen a growth of international cooperation between the forces of law and order that has astonished some older police hands.  For example, in November this cooperation enabled some serious international collar-feeling and the demise of a gang that had infected four million computers worldwide and stolen over £8m before they were stopped. 

It was a simple scam; when the infected computers tried to go to certain genuine websites they were re-directed to lookalike imposter sites, who simply took their money and delivered nothing.  After months of investigation, data centres in America and offices in Estonia were raided at the same moment and the gang arrested.  It was, believe it or not, a gang of just six people.

That’s the double edge of the internet sword – the same technology that allows us to contact people all over the world also allows ne’er-do-wells to pick our pockets from far away.

So you’d think that the computer manufacturers would do what they can to sell us kit that makes this more difficult; but think again.  One of the most irritating things about buying a new computer is all the work that you have to do to it to make it work the way you want.  Anti-spyware stuff is always extra when you but a new computer.   Honestly, it’s like selling a house but saying the doors are not included.

It takes a little time  to clear out the “free” anti-virus software (free for twelve months, then pay up, thank you very much) and install replacement programmes that are both respectable and genuinely free. 

It really is about time that all new computers came with a set of good, free, security software pre-installed, with no time bomb of an annual bill in the future hiding in the wings.

For what it’s worth, this is the free software I recommend if you are using a Windows based computer (as opposed to Apple), or getting a new one for Christmas:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials, which runs all the time and protects against most things.
    Click here to download Security Essentials 
  • Spybot  – use this to run scans of your system every so often; it will find stuff which you want rid of, and which sneaked in under the radar.  Most of it will be benign, just related to advertising, but it will certainly be slowing you down.
    Click here to download Spybot

I’d be pleased to hear how you get on;