Anytime you connect to the internet or do something online, you risk exposing your computer to viruses and malware.
These malicious programs are often undetectable without special software. Many do not harm your computer in any noticeable way, but they can steal personal information and files or cause other problems.
Most internet users today are savvy enough to avoid common pitfalls, but there are many surprising ways to infect your computer, and new sources of infection are created all the time.
1. Grayware and Surveys
Grayware is a term many people may not have heard before. It is software that falls somewhere between adware and malware. The programs are often buried inside of legitimate ads. They may direct the person to a website or survey. When the person visits the website or takes the survey, they are unwittingly providing information and access to unknown and possibly criminal third parties.
These programs are insidious because they appear completely harmless, and in many cases the program itself is harmless. The danger comes from the fact that operators of the grayware will turn around and sell the collected information to other criminals who may not be so harmless.
This tactic is most commonly exploited by users seeking free stuff. The adware manager can offer the product for free because they are getting paid a commission from another business to direct traffic to that site. The adware may require you to watch a video or download a link. These downloads commonly contain viruses or other malware or spyware which then infects your computer.
2. Free Streaming Offers
Free streaming services are notorious for infections. They will often lure victims in with the promise of free episodes or shows that are difficult to find elsewhere. While the stream itself may be clean, the host will often require you to download files, such as a certain type of web player, in order to access the video. The download itself is often what contains the virus. The simple fact is that few legitimate streaming services require a special player. Players can almost always be built into the page and do not require a download. Be wary of any that do.
3. Online Gaming Bots
Many online games are populated by bots or fake players that are actually a program pretending to be a player. These programs usually don’t play the game at all. Instead, they constantly post certain chat messages or send in-game mail. Almost always, these messages direct players to third party sites, promising some in-game bonus or rewards.
First, interacting with these bots is a punishable offense in many games, which often results in a ban or account block. The bots may also ask for login information or other personal information that should never be shared. The website the bot directs to may offer downloads or cheats for the game in question. These files are almost always loaded with viruses or malware.
4. Browser Extensions
This is a relative newcomer to the cybercrime scene, but it may grow into an especially dangerous threat. Many people use browser extensions to make their online experience more comfortable and user friendly. The extensions themselves may act like viruses or carry virus programs within them. When you enable the extension, you are enabling the virus.
The function of these viruses is usually limited to the browser itself, so it doesn’t pose much of a threat to your computer files. It may still be a large breach of our privacy because the extension may perform click fraud or log your internet activity. As the software develops, there is a fear that it could cause more serious online problems like taking over social media accounts or hacking into confidential online information like emails or bank records.
5. Imitation Sites
An imitation site is a website or page that is made to look exactly like a legitimate site but is instead operated by hackers and identify thieves. It is very common for hackers to make these websites to mimic major businesses that people routinely log into with personal information. Banks are a big example, but it could also be email services, hospitals or other subscription-based services.
Hackers are looking to get personal information delivered to them by tricking the user into entering their personal information on the imitation site. This can be especially dangerous when banking information is involved because it potentially allows the criminal to immediately hack your online banking account and make changes or transfer funds.
Since website addresses must be unique, an imitation site cannot have the exact same address as the authentic site. The hackers will play off the fact that many people may use Google or type incomplete addresses in order to get to websites. They will try to make an address so close the real thing that it is easily mistaken for it or shows up in the top search results. To avoid this, always be sure you type the full and accurate web address into the bar and be mindful of anything about the address that looks off or added on. Also, if you watch streamed video games or a show of some kind, be wary of who you trust in the chat. Bots have been known to infiltrate channels, promising “raffles” or other such options that actually can take over your gaming account and erase all of your progress.
By being extra careful online and being mindful of the latest threats, you can protect your computer and your files from destruction and identity theft. It is always a good idea to be careful about what you download and what you allow to be added to your computer. Always use professional virus protection programs and keep your computer properly updated.