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October 20, 2012

The Most Frightening Internet Threats This Halloween Season

By Rich Steeves, TMCnet Web Editor

If Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year,” then the weeks leading up to Halloween must be the creepiest, the spookiest and the most terrifying. And, while we might be used to getting frightened by scary movies, horrifying costumes and tales of terror, the real dangers are not of the supernatural variety. Instead, what we should really fear are the threats that lurk in the shadows of the Internet, ready to take our money, steal our identities and crash our computers.

Nick Nascimento, the chief geek at AGeek2Go, a senior-level IT service and support company, is an expert on such threats, and he recently sat around a campfire in the dead of night telling tales about the four biggest threats that we should all know. Well, it didn’t quite go down like that, but Nascimento does know quite a bit about the things that go bump in your hard drive…

Spooky computer image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The first danger that Nascimento points out is in the eerie-sounding category of “ransomware.” This is a type of virus that infects your computer and forces you to pay someone in order to remove it (which they won’t do). One particularly nasty strain of this beasty is the FBI MoneyPak Trojan, which fills your computer with FBI warnings instructing you that you must pay a fine. This virus can lock up your desktop, and disable your system utilities. This particular bugger is a bit like a vampire. While that monster might lure you in with a nice castle and a hypnotic stare, this one leads you along with official-seeming FBI credentials before sucking you dry – of money, not blood, in this case. And you won’t need Van Helsing to get rid of it. Instead, call a removal specialist to deal with this tricky sucker.

Nascimento’s second nasty is a lot like the werewolf. You could invite an ordinary, perhaps slightly hairy, man into your house, only to discover that, when the moon is full, he transforms into a ravenous beast. Well, the ‘eventvwr’ scam works in a similar fashion. You get a call from an ordinary Joe who claims that your computer is a source of malicious attacks and that you are already infected with a variety of malware. He then takes control of your computer remotely and steals all of your passwords and financial information, while at the same time trying to sell you bogus support services!

The next type of problem is a lot like a poltergeist. It will make a lot of noise and scare you, but you have to stay strong. This category of bug is the Fake Virus Alert, also known (fittingly) as Scareware. It makes a lot of stink about infections on your computer, posing as a fake virus removal program. It prompts you to pay for virus removal, but if you enter your payment information, they now have it and can use it for evil (or buying lots of ugly suits or whatever these hackers do with their ill-gotten gains). These buggers are often transmitted via infected images that turn up in image searches, so be careful clicking on that alluring picture of Emma Watson, no matter how much you loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower!

The final technological nasty out there is a lot like a gremlin – small and portable, but still nasty. IT can infect your mobile device, usually via an infected app. It hides itself in, say, a copy of Instagram, and then takes over your phone, sending SMS messages to premium numbers. It is important, Nascimento says, to make sure you get your apps from legitimate sources to help protect against these scams.

In the end, we may all be eaten alive when the zombie apocalypse comes, but in the meantime we can stock up on canned goods and learn to use a crossbow. But it’s a lot easier to guard against Trojans and other forms of malware. Just remember what I used to say when I dressed up as GI Joe for Halloween: “Knowing is half the battle!” The other half is using common sense when on the Internet. Oh, and making sure you don’t accept any unwrapped candy from strangers!

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