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Spring Cleaning Means Taking Out the Cyber Trash

By Carl Weiss

Cleaning Supplies for Spring Cleaning
Cleaning Supplies for Spring Cleaning (Photo credit: Chiot's Run)
It's spring time and that means time for Spring cleaning. I don’t mean wiping down your desk or even your computer screen. I’m talking about getting rid of undesirable followers in your social media, cleaning up your website, blog and Social profiles so they are current, accurate and devoid of sensitive personal information. I’m talking about taking the time to scan all your internet-enabled devices for malware, viruses, trojans and the like. Yes, it’s Spring-cleaning time and you had better get to it!

News Headline: “A new strain of bird flu was recently detected in China that has killed four of the sixteen people it infected.”  As a precaution, hundreds of thousands of chickens have been slaughtered in China to prevent the spread of the virus. The US Center for Disease Control has been put on high alert.

However, when it comes to cyber threats, governments are sometimes slow to act. This is one area where bureaucratic red tape stops anything from being done.  The fact is, “you” have to take responsibility for the safety of your identity and information. You are the only person who can keep your internet devices from being infected.  

The Search Results that showed every page had ...
The Search Results that showed every page had malware (Photo credit: mary hodder)
How, by spending the time needed to scan, clean and maintain your devices and by not engaging in risky online behavior. The problem of malware, viruses, Trojans and hackers infecting our systems is not going away, it’s getting worse. In fact, the number of computer viruses worldwide has been growing at an almost exponential rate.

“Did you know that in 2008, it was estimated the number of known computer viruses stood at in excess of 1 million, an increase of 468 per cent on the previous year? Figures suggest at least five malware samples emerge on the Internet every two minutes and 15 to 20 new Trojans are released every half hour.”

The figures as of 2013 are as high as 17 million according to antivirus maker Symantec.  Far from being a high priority on the minds of government officials, in many cases the laws that do exist actually work to prevent government cooperation.  Even within our own borders, the authorities have yet to create effective legislation that offers any hope of curtailing the proliferation of malware.  Prosecutions against malware developers are rare.  In the meantime, cyber criminals from hacker collectives to foreign governments are busy 24/7 cranking out ever more insidious ways of infecting your computer.

Here Are Just a Few Headlines

June 12, 2012 ZDNet: On Sunday Microsoft reported that “some components of the malware have been signed by certificates that allow software to appear as if it was produced by Microsoft.
Homeland Security Advisory System scale.
Homeland Security Advisory System scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dec. 26, 2012: New viruses that are disguised to look like a government program have been spreading around the world. The new type of virus generally blocks users from accessing their desktop, documents, and programs until the user pays a ransom (generally a hundred dollars or more) to the cyber criminals who created the virus.

Jan. 13, 2013: The US Department of Homeland Security is advising people to temporarily disable Java software on their computer to avoid potential hacking attacks.

Once inside your computer, hackers can do everything from directing you to clone sites designed to get you to reveal your passwords, to activating your computer’s camera in order to spy on you, to holding your system hostage, or even hijacking your machine in order to infect yet more systems.  The good news is that with the right combination of software and a little online discipline, preventing all but the most concerted of hacking efforts is relatively simple to accomplish.  The bad news is that once infected, your system and your life may never be the same.

Ammunition to Keep Yourself Safe

English: Full logo with tagline and ...
English: Full logo with tagline and trademark notice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The best way to keep from being victimized is to run at least two layers of antivirus and anti-malware/anti-spyware software on all your systems. We also recommend using site advisory such as Web of Trust to clue you into suspicious websites.  All yourInternet devices need to be protected. This includes all your PCs and laptops, tablets and smartphones. 

While most people have at least an antivirus program working on their PCs and laptops, it isn’t at all unusual for them to have no protection on tablets and especially smartphones. Cyber-criminals are well aware of this vulnerability, so you need to plug this hole in your defenses right away if you hope to avoid being hacked.  (You also need to update most anti-malware packages and scan your system weekly to keep up to date.)

There are many types of malware that can infect your computer, but the types that can steal your data are simply called "information stealers." They are made up of things like keyloggers, screen recorders and memory scrapers. They perform a variety of tasks, from recording what keys you press to taking screenshots of your desktop at random intervals. This information is then sent to the malware's designer, showing them whatever you typed or viewed on your computer. Using this method, a hacker can steal any data from computer passwords to credit card numbers.

A pop-up notification stating malware was found.
A pop-up notification stating malware was found. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
However, even the best firewall and antivirus programs cannot offer you complete protection if you insist on clicking on links leading to suspicious websites or opening email attachments without first scanning them for malware. No amount of malware protection can protect someone who is engaging in risky behavior. What is risky behavior you ask? Clicking on teaser ads, free offer, or links promising unrealistic free gifts is risky. Visiting unscrupulous website offering porn, free music, videos or other prizes. If you want a real eye-opener, read the FBI’s article called “Internet Social Networking Risk”! Better yet, heed their warnings.

Another defense layer you can add is using website rating plugin’s to your browser. Browser plugin’s like Web of Trust uses a stoplight rating system where suspicious sites are flagged with a red light and trusted sites are given the green.  If you click on a site flagged with a red light, that’s like leaving your car in the parking lot of a shopping mall with the ignition running and a “Steal Me” sign on the windshield.  Site advisory systems will only warn and not prevent you from accessing potentially harmful websites.

There’s a Trojan (App) for That

Malware logo Crystal 128.
Malware logo Crystal 128. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So called “Free App" usage has exploded since the birth of smartphones and tablets.  Needless to say, this has also resulted in an explosion of infected smart devices.  Understand from the outset that there is no such thing as a free app, just as there is no such thing as a free lunch.  In the best case, by downloading a free app onto your system, you will also load adware, (maybe even spyware). You are also providing the developer with contact information that can be sold to the highest bidder.  In the worst-case scenario, you will download a virus, worm or Trojan horse that is designed to provide the cyber criminal with access to your system, giving them the means to control your device and compromise your identity and financial information.

"The humorous IT security expert, who sports numerous tattoos and has a penchant for heavy metal music, can hack into your mobile phone with a single SMS.  He can then remotely listen to your calls, read text messages and even access the password to your online bank account.
“'It’s creepy, isn’t it?' said Ferguson, who is global vice-president for security research for IT firm Trend Micro, as he demonstrated the hack. Yet, many users still refused to believe how vulnerable they are when they use mobile devices, he added.
In order to prevent picking up these unwanted hitchhikers, only download apps and software from trusted vendors.  You also need to research app review sites such as C|,, and in order to find out if an app is reputable. Always look for apps that have thousands of subscribers. Stay away from new apps; they just could be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Purchase and use antimalware software for your mobile phone and tablet.  Many mobile security suites will scan your apps as they are downloaded, preventing viruses and other forms of malware from attaching themselves to your devices easily.

Ignoring Your Computer's Symptoms Won’t Make the Problem Go Away

Influenza A virus
Influenza A virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The problem with most people is that they don’t take any corrective action until their system is thoroughly infected.  Many people ignore obvious warning signs that their system has been compromised. By the time they take their device to an IT professional, the damage can be so great that in some cases the infected hard drive needs to be completely wiped in order to correct the situation. Slowing performance, dropped calls, pop up ads, data plan spikes and higher than expected phone bills are just a few of the tell tale signs that your device is infected with malware.  

Of course, the cost of remedial action is nothing compared to the loss of privacy, financial information or even identity loss that can occur if a device is infected. Just as with human viruses no one cure exist. While it may is impossible to absolutely, eliminate all malware threats, you can prevent most of them. With proactive preventative maintenance and some common sense online discipline, you can prevent all your internet devices from catching next wave of cyber malware.  

If you like this article, you can find more by typing “internet security" in the search box at the top left of this blog. If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-works. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the comment sections below.  If you would like a free copy of our book, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," fill out the form below.

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on
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