Information Assurance Analyst at the National Information Assurance Training and Education Center (NIATEC)
Chances are, if you’re familiar with the ins and outs of the internet, you’re familiar with that kind of headline. For the uninitiated, that type of attention grabbing link title (complete with numbers, all-caps, and too many exclamation points) is what’s known as “clickbait.” As the name would suggest, its primary purpose is to bait internet users to click the link, sending them to a website which then collects ad revenue from the ad providers sponsoring the site.
While there are reputable sites which adhere to this format, there are also sites which have a much more malignant purpose than ad revenue. Clicking on an innocent link can allow a malicious website to install malware (any software designed to disrupt normal computer operations) which may gather your personal information, or even allow a remote user to have complete control of your computer. Worse still is the rise of what are called “drive-by downloads,” malware that can be downloaded and installed on your computer without you knowing about it at all.
Another attack, known as phishing, deceives users into giving up their sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details. This is typically achieved by imitating a trusted site or company and asking a user to fill out forms to “verify their identity.” The more concentrated form, known as spear-phishing, involves a malicious user actively researching their target (namely, you), then imitating a specified trusted source and “confirming” their identity by use of personal names or other information to gain trust.
These are just two of the very large number of ways you can be targeted for cybercrime. So what can you do to defend against it?
The best defense against cybercrime is constant vigilance, and a little common sense. Be skeptical of every email you receive, every website you visit, do not even open email from someone you don’t know, do not click a link unless you know exactly where it’s going and trust that source, and have a mental alarm for when any site asks for personal information. For a little extra protection against ad-based malware, as well as to clean up your online experience, download an adblocker (such as AdBlock Plus).
When it comes to keeping your information safe, you are the most important piece of the puzzle.