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Is Your Computer Sick?

Certain seasons of the year are notorious for bringing on colds and allergies. But your computer can come down with a virus, too —or one of many other “ailments” that can put you and your finances in danger. That’s because the same technology you use to communicate, shop, or entertain yourself can also leave you open to crooks looking to hijack your computer and gain access to your personal and financial information. Let us help you understand the dangers and what to do about them.

The Diagnosis

Malware is a catch-all phrase for “malicious software” that can be downloaded onto your computer unknowingly and without your consent in order to gain access to your personal information, send spam (unsolicited, bulk e-mail), and commit fraud. Malware can include:

  • Spyware. Designed to monitor your use, send popup ads, redirect your computer to certain websites, or record key strokes (called keylogging), which could lead to identity theft.
  • Adware. Often attached to free downloads, it’s intended to monitor your computer use (including websites visited) and display targeted ads based on where you’ve been.
  • Viruses. Usually through an e-mail attachment, viruses sneak onto your computer, copy themselves without your permission, and use up all available memory.
  • Trojans. Enable unauthorized people to access your computer and sometimes to send spam from it.

Social Engineering attacks also have been used to commit identity theft by luring you into giving up user names and passwords, PINs, account information, or debit or credit card numbers. These include:

  • Phishing. Fake e-mail or pop-up messages made to appear authentic or from legitimate organizations and that include requests (or even threats) for information.
  • Pharming. Hackers redirect traffic from a legitimate site to a bogus one in order to gain users’ login credentials or other information.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Keep your operating system and Web browser up-to-date. Download their free software “patches” to close holes in their systems that crooks could exploit. Set them to update automatically, then set the built-in security and privacy settings higher than the default.
  • If not in use, disconnect. When not using your computer, disconnect it from the internet altogether so it can’t send or receive information and isn’t vulnerable to hackers.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Anti-virus and anti-spyware software can protect you from inadvertently accepting unwanted or troublesome files, while a firewall blocks unauthorized access to your computer and will alert you if spyware already on your computer is sending information out. Download them individually or as a “suite” from your internet service provider or software companies, or buy them in retail stores. (Norton and McAfee offer highly rated security suites.)
  • Download software only from websites you know and trust. Free games, file-sharing programs, and customized toolbars can come with malware. Be cautious!
  • Don’t click on links or attachments within popups or e-mail. If you do, you may unknowingly install malware on your computer. Instead, close popup windows by clicking on the “X” icon in the title bar.
  • Don’t click on links for free software. Ads (called scareware) that claim to have scanned your computer and detected problems are a tactic scammers have used to spread malware. Don’t click on those messages!
  • Don’t reply to requests for sensitive information. Legitimate companies —including banks like Millbury Savings —don’t ask for your personal or financial information via e-mail, and clicking on links in such e-mails can redirect you to bogus sites. If you are concerned about your account, contact the company directly using a telephone number you know is real, or open a new internet browser session and type in the company’s correct Web address yourself.
  • Back up your data. Back up any photos, text files, or data that you’d want to keep in case of a computer crash. Copy them onto a removable disk or an external hard drive, and store it in a safe place. (Hint: your Millbury Savings Bank safe deposit box is the ideal place!)
  • Don’t e-mail sensitive information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal or financial information because it can be intercepted.
  • Beware when shopping online. Look for indicators that a site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).
  • Protect your passwords. Keep them secure and out of sight, and don’t share them! Make passwords tough for hackers to figure out by using at least eight characters (12 is even stronger) and including numbers or symbols. Avoid using common words or your personal information or login name as your password. Change all passwords regularly.
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