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Being cautious while web surfing

An increase in online scams accentuates the need for caution

Everyone knows that the Internet is often a very unsafe place. An unprepared and unprotected user can fall prey to any number of types of malicious software. Email inboxes are littered with unsafe attachments even websites are capable of putting a computer at risk with virus infections, malware, and spyware. As often as not the risk of low-tech manipulation is far greater.

We all hear stories about those who pose a threat to innocent web surfers. The word hacker has been overused to the extent that it now applies to virtually any Internet danger. While it does take a mixture of skill and talent to create spyware, malware, and viruses the more widespread means of infection often require far less effort.

As long as there have been those who possess something of value there have been those who seek to acquire it. Vastly superior to stealing something or creating software code is to convince someone to hand over the valuable item or at least grant access to it directly.

The current trend in computer threats involves brightly-coloured, intimidating messages that convince users to grant someone direct access to their PC. Clicking on advertisements found on Facebook, or news sites like MSN can lead to a new window suddenly popping up. These windows contain messages claiming that your computer is infected with something or threatening that the R.C.M.P. have detected that you’ve been doing something that you shouldn't.

Generally the message will contain a phone number to call where a telemarketer type will attempt to help you out. These “computer specialists” will walk you through granting them remote access to your computer. Once they’re connected to your computer they will announce that your machine has hundreds of viruses and attempt to convince you to give them a credit card number to purchase software to remove them.

The software is either fictitious or they will install something on your computer that lets them make use of your computer for other things. These “social engineers” are often very talented at convincing unsuspecting computer users to do what they want. If they can’t convince you to supply them with something they can use, often as not your computer will be disabled in some way in the hopes that you will call back again to get it “fixed”.

What often makes people so eager to call these numbers is the fact that the pop-up windows often can’t be closed. Some of them blink and flash while others increase the computer’s speaker volume to full and play a siren sound. The goal is to annoy the victim enough that they are eager to do whatever it takes to resolve the problem. In fact, apart from the pop-up itself, nothing is really wrong…until after the phone call.

A little advanced warning can make these obnoxious messages super easy to deal with. When clicking on the close button doesn’t work there are some steps you can take to get rid of these annoyances. Any computer window can be closed even when the close buttons have been disabled and that is the key to calmly solving this problem without reacting in the desired manner. The solution is slightly different depending on the computer operating system.

Windows: Any window can be closed down by holding down the ALT key and pressing F4
Apple: In OSX the same thing can be achieved by holding down three keys. COMMAND, ALT, and ESC

These little tips are just the ticket for closing down a rogue browser window. The real key is to stay calm and not allow yourself to be manipulated into panicking. Take comfort in the knowledge that your anti-virus software is doing its job and the R.C.M.P. is not coming to get you.  Simply use the keys outlined above to close the offending window and carry on like nothing happened at all.

Happy Surfing!

Kevin Davison is a Guelph-based computer consultant for Kadence Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in computer and network management. Kevin also possesses expertise in telecommunications systems, home automation, security and various residential and commercial electronics.

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