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Recognize Online Security Threats

Recognize Online Security Threats

Be alert for cyber-thieves trying to steal your valuable information.

With increasing data being shared online, there is a corresponding rise in online theft of personal information and financial records. Protect yourself from information theft by knowing what to look for. Here are some of the more active online security threats and how they work.

Phishing and Pharming

Phishing and pharming start with fraudulent emails that look like they come from a legitimate business. These emails direct you to a website with an official-appearing name and offer, and encourage you to provide private data such as passwords or credit card information. This information is then used by the “phisher” to commit identity theft, make purchases in your name or drain your bank account.

If you suspect that you are a victim of phishing, notify your bank and credit card companies immediately. You should also notify the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union to protect your credit score.

Viruses and Worms

A virus is software that spreads by infecting other computers and interfering with their normal operation. Viruses are often spread by a user opening an infected file or application.

A worm can spread automatically. Worms are very similar to viruses in that they are programs that copy themselves and interfere with the normal use of your computer or program.

Signs that indicate a possible virus or worm:

  • Unexplained system slowdown
  • Sudden increase in computer crashes
  • Extra browser toolbars you can’t remove
  • Your browser going to websites you didn't type in


Spyware tracks or records information about your computer use and can be delivered and installed in many ways, including many popular shareware programs.

There are different types of spyware:

  • Nuisance – Unwanted ads appear on your computer screen.
  • Tracking – Records websites you visit.
  • Redirecting – Sends your computer to another website, regardless of what you type.
  • System shut down – Shuts down your computer and erases or damages files.
  • Identity theft – Records passwords and credit card numbers, enabling a thief to use them later.

Signs your computer has been infected with spyware:

  • You experience a barrage of pop-up ads.
  • Your browser takes you to sites you didn’t type in.
  • Your home page undergoes sudden or repeated changes.
  • Additional, unwanted toolbars return every time you restart your computer.
  • Your favorites include an item you didn’t add.
  • Your computer is slower than usual or crashes frequently.


A Trojan is software that appears to perform a useful function but is actually implanting a virus. Trojans often enter your system by hiding in other software. Their main objective is to allow a remote user access to your machine without your knowledge.

Once infected, your computer becomes accessible to a remote user. If you keep credit card or other financial records on your computer, an intruder can steal that information. The intruder can also steal passwords to gain access to restricted information or to password-protected websites.

Scareware and Ransomware

Scareware claims that your computer is infected with a virus and that it has the solution. It tries to scare you into purchasing and installing a program to “fix” the problem.

Ransomware makes your computer files inaccessible and asks for a fee (ransom) by credit card to regain access.

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