Bits & P.C.s: Being ‘Net-aware’—part one

One of the latest dangers as you surf the Net is that of pop-ups. By this I am not referring to those annoying pop-up ads, but rather the pop-ups will tell you that your computer “may have a security problem” or some other notice that appears to be a real Windows error message.

The danger here is that these messages are actually either an attempt to sell you a product, or worse yet, they may actually place a virus or Trojan program on your computer.

I have recently seen a number of computers that have had their home page, that is, the Web site that you go to when you first connect to the Internet, changed to a porn site or a Web search page.

Many legitimate businesses will pay a Web site owner a referral fee for each customer that goes to their site from one of their linked sites. Some businesses even pay a percentage of what you spend to the referrer site. If your home page is changed to a site that will benefit from these fees, then they will make it quite difficult for you to get your old home page back.

These “hijackers” will also take control of your search engine. Many businesses will pay Yahoo or Google or MSN to have their business name appear first in the listings when you do a search. If the hijacker is receiving a kickback, then it is to their advantage to have their search engine to be the one that you use.

A far more serious threat from pop-ups are the ones that appear on Web sites for financial institutions. Recently, the Citibank site included a pop-up requesting your user login and account password.

The only problem was, even though you were connected to the Citibank Web site, the pop-up had been placed there by a hacker. When you filled in the requested information it was sent to the hacker who now had the information, necessary to access your banking information.

So what can you do to avoid the problems associated with pop-ups? The first and most important thing is to be “Net-aware.” Before you fill in any information in a pop-up box, think about what you are doing. If you have been to the Web site before, do things appear and act different today? Did a pop-up box appear before for you to enter your login and password, or was there just a space on the Web page where you would fill in the information?

When you go to a bank Web site, type the Web site address into the Web browser, do not go there from a link on another Web page. If you do fill in the pop-up box, enter in a fictitious name and password. If the pop-up is real, it should tell you that the information isn’t correct and ask you to re-enter it. If it doesn’t, then it is more than likely placed there by a hacker, and you should notify the bank of the security risk.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times, e-mail, or call 243-1162.

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