Families certainly don’t need computer hassles during the holidays, but this highly social time is right when everybody needs to be a little extra alert to social engineering. Here’s what social engineering looks like this week, at the convergence of last-minute holiday distractions and the sudden death of a young actor, Brittany Murphy. “As a young star in movies that were highly popular with a younger audience, Brittany may currently be the search engine topic of choice among your own children,” writes Trend Micro’s Net-safety activist Lynette Owens in her blog. “Regardless of whether or not you knew who she was or how much talent you thought she had, many people are crowding on the internet to find out more about her and what lead to her death.” So what happens? “Alongside the stories about Brittany in a Google search, researchers at Trend Micro found links to hoax Web sites purporting to offer information about her death…. If you clicked on these links you would see a pop-up message telling you that your computer has been infected with a virus and you need to scan it immediately.” Select “ok,” and you get a screen saying your system’s being scanned. Once the fake scan is “done,” you get another screen prompting you to download free security software. Click “ok” again, and the intruder opens a door in your system that can give the source of this scam control of it.
Another scam this year is offers of “free” versions of the film Avatar. In its security blog, Symantec says “there are literally hundreds of … scam sites and pages trying to cash in on the hype around this new film. All of these sites are offering full free downloads or streaming videos of this new film…. Some are collecting email addresses, others are trying to get you fill in surveys, IQ tests, and so on that will eventually ask you to enter in your mobile phone number, which will sign you up for some unwanted and subscription-based, premium-rate services,” among other potential problems.