Recently a message was posted to one of our e-mail lists. The subject line was simply a name, and the e-mail contained only a link. This is a common form of malware -- something intended to get into your computer. We've seen a few of these lately, and that reminded us to pass along our recommendations for practicing safe computing, or "look before you click."
1. Don't ever EVER open an attachment or click on a link if it doesn't look "right." Pay attention. For example, the ones we've seen recently look like it came from someone on the list (it did) but you likely don't know the name in the subject line, you aren't expecting a link to be sent to you, there is no other message, and the link is something odd and that you never heard of. (Extra tech tip: generally you can "hover over" a link and a "tooltip" will appear showing you whether the link actually even matches the text you can read.)
2. When in doubt, call the person who sent it. If they didn't knowingly send it, it could be their computer has been infected with a program that sent out similar messages to everyone in their address book. Sometimes these will show up in their "Sent" box.
3. If it is YOUR account that has been hacked, most emai providers recommend that first and foremost, you change your password immediately. Make sure it is a "strong" password -- that is, it doens't contain any recognizable words, your name, address or pet's name, has a combination of numbers and upper and lower case letters (some systems will also accept other characters such as & or $). There may be additional steps you will need to take to make sure your account is again secure.
4. Recommend that they have their computer checked and, most importantly: keep your own computer safe. Get a good, well-known anti-virus and anti-spyware program like AVG, ESET NOD 32, Kaspersky, Norton or McAfee. Most are around $40 a year. Keep your subscription up to date. If you don't know how to do this or aren't sure, spend the money to have someone you trust do it for you. That's cheap insurance. You'd pay a lot more if you end up having to pay someone to reconstruct whatever you may have left on your computer after a malware program infected it. (Extra tech tip: ad-ware and malware often cleverly disguise themselves as free or "cheap" anti-virus programs. Watch out!)
5. Keep your computer's programs, especially the operating system, updated and patched. Again, have your trusted "computer person" help if you need to.
6. If your computer contains important data, even if it's only your addresses, BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP.
7. If you get the e-mail that says "Worst Virus Ever" just delete it. This is a hoax that has gone around the internet for years. Please resist the impulse to panic and tell all your friends. Most hoax e-mails try to push our panic buttons. Check snopes.com before forwarding, follow steps 1 through 5 above, then take a deep breath!
8. The UUA adds, be alert and aware of phishing scams like the example below: "A phishing scam is circulating that tries to get you to enter your login information. If you get an email like the one shown below, enter no data... [just] delete it.
"The UUA helpdesk will NEVER ask you to enter confidential information through an email. No reputable business will do so either. Always delete those emails."
“The Helpdesk Program that periodically checks the size of your e-mail
space is sending you this information. The program runs weekly to ensure
your inbox does not grow too large, thus preventing you from receiving or
sending new e-mail. As this message is being sent, you have 18 megabytes
(MB) or more stored in your inbox. To help us reset your space in our
database, please enter your current user name (_________________)
On the positive side, here's a good idea: First UU Church of Columbus Ohio is holding a computer tune-up day with a team of computer specialists offering to scan computers for viruses, install anti-virus software and needed updates and patches. Could that work in your congregation?
You may have other thoughts or questions about computing safety. Please feel free to contact me.