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Tricks that Could Potentially Open Up Your Computer to Attacks by Malicious Software

A recent study conducted by North Carolina State University psychology researchers found that most Internet users are susceptible to tricks that could potentially open them up to attacks by malicious software.

A common way that bad guys try to trick you into installing malicious software on your computer is to use a fake pop-up warning. Usually this warning is about something being wrong with your PC, such as a virus or spyware being found. The window is made to look a lot like a Windows dialog (although there are usually telltale signs that you might be able to spot--such as the title bar including "Internet Explorer"). Clicking an OK button, or even a Cancel or Close button, on such a fake warning might install malicious software on your PC. Some of this malicious software is so called "scareware", which tries to scare you into buying their supposed virus cleaner by telling you that you have a lot of viruses or spyware (which do not exist on your PC or are actually legitimate files on your PC). By the way, the supposed virus cleaner either does nothing good or installs other spyware. If you ever get such a fake warning, use the window close button (the X in the upper right corner) to close the window; do not click any buttons on the window, not even a Cancel or Close button.

Another common way to try to trick you is to get you to install a supposed CODEC (multimedia compressor/decompressor) to view a video (or listen to an audio) file. This was real common a few weeks ago with spam e-mail messages purporting to come from CNN and later (when people got wise to the fake CNN updates), MSNBC, that were getting it past the spam filters. Our managed care customers do not need to install any CODEC; we already install a pack of (trusted) CODECs (and keep them updated) that will allow viewing just about any multimedia content from the Internet (assuming that you have a business need to view such multimedia content).

When faced with a pop-up warning, participants in the university study pressed the "OK" button in hopes the message would just go away. The study found that participants failed to recognize fake Internet popup warning messages. The fake messages said “Application Error – Microsoft Internet Explorer” at the top while real messages simply said “error.” Most of the time, participants clicked an “OK” button in the error messages instead of closing them using the "X" in the upper right corner. After the study, 42 percent of participants reported that they just wanted to “get rid of” the message. This may suggest that the annoyance of the pop-ups had something to do with the unsafe clicking behavior.

Pop-up messages can be annoying. But, be safe out there and use the windows close button to get rid of the pop-up dialog window.

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