Data-stealing malware soars

From phony emails to Facebook phishers, cybercriminals are casting a wide net to lure online shoppers this season. According to new research from Webroot, certain infections designed to steal personal information rose in the months leading up to the shopping season.

Surveying over 1,600 individuals, Webroot found the number of consumers planning to buy gifts online this season increased 46 percent from two years ago. The survey also revealed a number of behaviors that may put shoppers’ personal and financial information at risk. Among the key findings:

  • Over half (52 percent) of respondents frequently, if not always, use search engines to find gifts online
  • About two in five (38 percent) trust the first page of search results – a target for malicious links
  • Twelve percent are likely to use a public wireless access point to shop online for gifts.

Primary methods for stealing information

The Webroot Threat Research team has recorded a recent spike in certain phishing Trojans, including one which rose 73 percent since August. Called Trojan-Backdoor-Stinkbreath, it spreads via bogus emails bearing the names of shipping companies including FedEx, DHL, UPS and USPS – brands many shoppers expect to see this time of year.

There’s also been a rise in attacks on social networks, which may pose a risk to consumers planning to use social media for researching gifts. Infections of the Koobface worm, which targets users of Facebook, Twitter and other networks, have jumped 15 percent since summer. Koobface is known to distribute fake security alerts and rogue antivirus products — bogus malware infection warnings and malicious programs masquerading as legitimate security products – which trick victims into sharing information.

Webroot researchers also expect to see cybercriminals employ one of their most effective tactics – planting malicious links near the top of search engine results – to bait shoppers seeking hot deals on popular items. These malicious links also lead to fake alerts and rogue products, as well as other malicious payloads.

Finally, public wireless networks pose a risk to the 12 percent of survey respondents who plan to use them while shopping online for gifts. Data thieves can modify their own laptops to mimic wireless access points in places such as airports or cafes, and capture passwords and other information as victims unwittingly connect to their fraudulent networks.

Tips for safe online shopping

Webroot recommends individuals take the following actions before buying gifts online this season:

  • Search and click wisely — Never click links to unfamiliar Web sites. If you use a search engine to find gifts, treat every result with caution – especially the ones promising a link to an unbelievable deal.
  • Have antivirus and antispyware protection – Protect your PC with an Internet security suite that includes antivirus, antispyware, and firewall technologies.
  • Always install updates – If you’re using antimalware software, be sure to install updates which include the latest malware definitions; do the same with updates to your operating system.
  • Exercise caution when using public wireless networks – Be wary of using free networks in airports, coffee shops and other locations where your Internet session could be hijacked.
  • Use a credit card, Not a debit card, and monitor your credit – If you are a victim of fraud or cybercrime, most credit card agreements limit your liability for the charges. And monitor your credit report and/or credit status on a regular basis to quickly spot anything unusual.

Don't miss