One of the problems many people have when dealing with spam, phishing, and malware, is that they don’t really understand why they should care. Spam seems like a problem for companies to deal with, and not something an individual should even care about. Our goal with today’s post is to help you individuals to understand just why you should care about spam, phishing, and malware.
When spam hits your mailbox, it’s usually just annoying, that is, as long as you can recognize it for what it is. Spam is like those late night infomercials, the third class fliers and circulars that hit your real mailbox, or the bulletin boards along the highways. They all are trying to get you to part with your hard-earned money, and they will do just about anything they can to convince you to spend. If they succeed; if you go ahead and click the link and fill out the form to make a purchase, the best you can hope for is that you will continue to receive even more spam in your inbox, since you are now considered a “live one”. At worst, you may have provided your personal information, including your credit card details, to a malicious individual whose goal is to rip you off.
Often it is very difficult to tell the difference between spam, and the more dangerous phishing message. Both are intended to get you to click on a link and submit your personal information with the goal of stealing from you. Whether what they want to steal is simply your contact information for more targeted marketing, or your financial details so they can steal money, is not something you want to put to the test. People who fall victim to phishing attacks can lose more than a few dollars. Their credit rating can be damaged, and identity theft is something that can cause problems for years.
Malware can be the worst of the lot, and have the most immediate impact. Malware is any kind of software that is designed to do something you don’t want it to. There are several different names for malware, including virus, Trojan, and worm, and there are different ways your computer can become infected. Opening attachments in emails is the most common way, but often times your computer can become infected when you visit a website built to host malware. Spam and phishing messages don’t have to include attachments to infect your computer. The links they include are often to web pages that include malware. Clicking one of those links can be as bad as opening an attachment. And what happens when your computer is infected with malware?
If you’re lucky, all it means is that your computer will now start sending spam out to your friends, your family, your co-workers, and a million perfect strangers. If you are not as lucky, it will start searching your computer for financial information like credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and other juicy bits of information. Or maybe it will start recording your every key stroke, grabbing your passwords and sending them on to the authors of the malware. You really don’t want them to be able to log onto your bank, do you?
Most credit and debit cards offer limitations on liability from fraudulent transactions. Purchasing online from reputable companies is safe and secure, and not something you should worry about. However, the amount of effort you may have to go through to file a claim when you fall victim to a scheme is enough that you must take this threat seriously. Your credit rating, your identity, and your bank account could all be at risk should you click on one of the links in a spam or phishing message thinking “what’s the worst that could happen?” The worst can be very bad indeed.