Events like the recent spat of earthquakes and hurricanes in the United States inspire curiosity, especially when it’s so easy to find information these days. However, any time there’s a topic with a high volume of search traffic, cybercriminals swoop in like a bunch of vultures at a recently discovered carcass.
Cybercriminals know that topics like natural disasters will draw a lot of people seeking information, and they take advantage of these web surfers’ curiosity and naiveté with malware-laden ruses. Here are a few tips to employ when surfing the web, particularly if you’re researching a major current event:
- Look out for any photos or videos that claim to be “just released” or “exclusive.” These days, with more and more news footage coming from individuals’ mobile devices, we are more susceptible to false claims that a photo or video is “never before seen.” Many people naturally want to be the first to see something astounding–but be very wary. Always look for signs that a photo or video is legitimate (like checking that its source is valid), and remember that if something is truly worth seeing, you’ll probably be able to find it on a site you know is reputable.
- Along the same lines, always verify the legitimacy of a website before interacting with it. A little bit of researching on the web can help you figure out if a site is trustworthy.
- Be cautious around posts or messages you see on social networks—even if they appear to be from “friends.” Cybercriminals know how to hack into accounts and send fraudulent messages to everyone in the victim’s list of contacts. Making matters worse, they’re often generic enough messages that they seem tailored to the recipient, and usually contain malicious links or files. Cybercriminals similarly take advantage of trending topics to spread malware, so remember that just because a link has an #earthquake hashtag, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to click.
- Always be careful when a site asks you for credit card information. While you should always check the legitimacy of any site you visit, be especially wary of fake donation sites that sprout up after natural disasters and other tragic events. These fraudulent sites are used to take advantage of compassionate people who just want to help in a time of need. If a site is asking you to provide credit card information, make sure that it’s a valid site and organization (cybercriminals are getting pretty good at impersonating established organizations’ sites). Look out for cleverly misspelled domain names before submitting any personal information. One good way to ensure that you’re visiting the real deal is to find the organization’s site in a new browser window. Also, check to see that it’s encrypted with a secure HTTPS connection.
If you regularly read articles on computer security, you’ve probably seen similar posts before. Unfortunately, such advice bears repeating. This time around, the bait to look out for is anything related to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes.