Steve Kurtz
~ it's a beautiful world ~

You are your last line of defense

November 23rd, 2009

line-of-defenseWow!  Is that really you in this video?” the note on my Facebook page read.  It was from Jim who sometimes does send interesting links and I was curious.  “Click”.   Humm.  That’s odd.  There’s no video.  I wonder if Jim got it right?  Could he perhaps have … wait … what’s this?  I don’t think this website was suppose to … damn.  Now my browser is not working.  Fine.  Let me just restart the browser and try again.  Why won’t the browser close? Don’t tell me I have to restart the computer!  Hey, now everything is frozen.  Let me just turn the computer off and turn it back on again. … Why won’t my computer start up.  Hey, wait.  Do you think that link was a virus? Is my computer now infected?  NOOOOOOOO!

How could this have happened?  After all, I’m protected by a Firewall, a Virus Protection Program and a Spyware Preventer.  I even surf with Firefox which is far less susceptible to viruses.  So I’m safe to click on links, right?  And after all, the link was from Jim and he wouldn’t send me a virus.  I just don’t know how this could have possibly happened!

Well, that’s how it COULD have played out.  The fact of the matter is that computer users are exposed to viruses most every day.  In most cases, programs like McAfee or Norton DO protect the user.  Thanks to programs like this, we enjoy safer internet experiences.

But we’ve also become complacent.  We think that just because we haven’t seen a virus in a while (or ever) that we’re safe.  But the fact is that viruses can and do slip by even the best protection schemes.  In fact, that’s the only way developers like McAfee and Norton can learn to protect you … after someone or something has already become infected.

The easiest way for a virus to get to you is for the attacker to send you a link to click on.  Very often, the attacker impersonates someone you know (a friend, your bank, the government, etc…), giving the link a legitimate look and encouraging you to click on it.  When you click the link, your protection software might say “hey, he clicked on that, so it is probably OK just to do what the user wants”. All the protection devices in the world cannot protect us from ourselves.

So how should that story have played out?  Something like this:

Wow!  Is that really you in this video?” the note on my Facebook page read.  It was from Jim who sometimes does send interesting links and I was curious.  But Steve said that links in messages should be treated with care.  When I hover my mouse over the link (don’t click it!), the address that appears looks a little suspicious.  Let me send Jim an e-mail (I got the link on Facebook, so I’ll ask him about it using a different method) to see if he really meant to send me that video. … some time later, Jim replies that his computer was infected, and it was sending out links by itself and to PLEASE DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK!

Unfortunately, aside from Jim’s name, this story is true and has been experienced in one form or another by thousands of users. And as much of an inconvenience as this was to Jim (and the people who DID click on the link his computer sent out), the sad part is this kind of infection is relatively mild.  How about the virus that destroys your data, steels your passwords, your identity?  Be assured there are far more devastating viruses out there.  It could have been much, much worse.

By all means, make sure your virus/spyware/firewall protection is up to date and functioning properly.  But truly, we are our own last line of defense.  Be vigilant and cautious, especially when clicking links or attachments in messages.  Assume the worst.  The cost (in time and effort) to re-think a click or double-check the validity of a suspicious link or attachment will be minimal compared to the cost of repairing an infected computer or a lost identity.

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