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Hidden dangers lurk on trusted Web sites

Could your Web browsing habits be putting your firm at risk?

Clicking on an unfamiliar link, opening a questionable attachment or downloading a corrupt application could potentially install malicious software onto your computer, expose confidential data and cost you or your company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But if you think that these sorts of risks hide only in the darker corners of the Web, you’d be wrong.

Over 70 percent of malware comes from legitimate Web sites that have been compromised, according to Steve Werby, an information security officer with VCU, who spoke at the Retail Merchants Association’s First Friday Forum this morning. Security holes, along with user-generated content and third party ads, can bring malicious code into an otherwise well-intentioned site.

Social media is especially vulnerable, and attacks on popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter continue to increase, Werby said. Not only do these sites have weak security controls, but users tend to be more trusting. For example, people are more likely to click on a link or download a file if it’s sent from a friend or colleague.

In order to keep your important data safe while using the Web, Werby offered the following tips:

  • Simply having an anti-virus program installed on your computer isn’t enough. In order to have the best protection, you must routinely check for and install updates.
  • Install the latest security patches for your computer’s operating system and for all computer applications – most attacks are against programs such as Adobe, Flash and Java.
  • Use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer as your browser. Firefox is quicker to update users with security fixes.
  • Limit the overall number of applications you download from the Web.
  • Be wary of clicking through shortened URLs, such as tinyurl or bit.ly. They may be hiding malicious links.

- Sarah Rodriguez

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