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Internet security: You’re still the weakest link

Bad news for careless internet users: all the software in the world probably can’t protect you if you don’t use your head.

That’s confirmed by the local office of security vendor AVG; it says the weakest point is often the behaviour of online users themselves, enabling socially engineered malware to be more successful.

That’s not all, either: if you’re the sort of person likely to be scammed online, chances are you’ve been taken by a smooth talking salesman on the TV, too.

It seems crazy to the savvy surfer, but many of today’s internet users still fall for spam emails offering cheap Viagra, beautiful girls looking for love to go with the pills, or massive ‘internet lottery’ prizes.

Unsurprisingly, much of today’s malware is aimed at those who readily open suspicious links; indeed, just clicking on such a link probably tells the scammer a little about the individual holding the mouse. Or, these days, smartphone.

According to AVG’s Q2 2012 Community Powered Threat Report, in the last quarter Android smartphone users were tricked into downloading malware hidden in seemingly legitimate applications, such as ‘Angry Birds Space’ (apparently, that is seemingly legitimate). This evidently allowed hackers access to do as they pleased with the affected gadget, including downloading additional malicious code, or connecting it to a botnet.

AVG pointed to some rather dated Ministry of Consumer Affairs research (2009) which shows that 15% of New Zealand adults have been scammed out of their hard earned cash; there was no indication of how educated, wealthy, old or otherwise, these victims were/are.

However, according to the research, being scammed appears to be linked to the user’s habits of consumption - and not just on the net. That’s because one fifth of respondents expect to have multiple problems with a product of some sort every year, while roughly the same proportion are not confident New Zealand law will protect them in these incidences. In other words, these customers aren’t too discerning with what they buy and simply face the consequences of a dodgy purchase themselves.

And 21% of those scammed have bought something over the phone after seeing an infomercial in the last two years. It seems this is to where the many fitness products which guarantee tight buns ‘n abs end up going.

AVG seems to think that’s statistically significant and asks the question: ‘Could your purchase habits illustrate a vulnerability to being scammed out of money?’

Just in case the answer is ‘yes’, or even ‘maybe’ it provides these tips for the vulnerable (experienced internet users will recognise them as common sense):

• Protect every Internet-enabled device: your computer, laptop, tablet and mobile• Switch on automatic updates for all programmes and upgrade to the latest operating system• All data has value to a cybercriminal; consider carefully what personal information you are willing to share in the public domain• Only carry out financial transactions in a secure https:// page. Also, use a credit rather than debit card as the financial institution will not charge you for any proven fraudulent activity on your credit card• Think and check before you click through on any link or attachment, particularly on social networking sites

Been scammed? Know someone who’s been scammed? Tell us about it.