Avoiding The ‘Phishing’ Hook

There was a time when the biggest online threat was a virus that spread to every name in an address book and pollinated multiple computers. Known as worms, they were an inconvenience, but were fairly simple to eradicate with a clean sweep from an updated anti-virus program and a lecture to employees about never opening e-mail and/or downloading attachments from unknown sources.

Online threats have since become more nefarious. They can pilfer confidential information, steal identities, and even pose as legitimate entities, according to Bill Rosenkrantz, group manager at Santa Monica-based Symantec Security Response. Much of the increase can be attributed to a practice known as “phishing,” which finds crooks stealing consumers’ personal identity data and financial account credentials through “spoofed” e-mails that lead unknowing users to counterfeit Websites of “hijacked” brands. Once there, recipients are tricked into divulging financial data such as credit card numbers, account usernames, passwords, and Social Security numbers.

In its latest trends report, The Anti-Phishing Working Group says 18,480 unique phishing reports were received in March 2006, up from 12,883 in March 2005. According to the report, the most targeted industry sectors include financial services (90%), Internet service providers (5.7 %), retail (2.9 %), and miscellaneous (1.4 %).

To ward off online threats, conduct regular reviews of your credit card and bank statements. Investing in up-to-date antivirus protection, spam blockers, and firewalls is another strategy.

Does your e-mail look phishy?
Don’t respond to e-mails requesting your personal information. Online scam artists use this tactic to lure victims to phony Websites that look like they are from an authentic company, organization, or agency.

Don’t enter your personal information in a pop-up screen. In some cases, phishers will create an unauthorized pop-up screen with blanks for providing personal information when you visit the Website of a real company or organization.

Use up-to-date spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and firewalls to protect your computer. Spam filters help reduce the number of phishing e-mails you get, while firewalls can prevent unauthorized entry and hacking into your computer.