Drive-by downloads & media literacy

Current events and computer security increasingly have a lot in common. Put top news stories like the death of Michael Jackson and Web surfing habits into family discussions or dinner-table chat, and it’s win-win for everybody. Kids gain a little in media literacy, and family computers avoid infection. “How can that be?” you might ask. More and more Web sites – including those of the best media companies and nonprofit organizations – are getting hacked and “booby-trapped,” the San Jose Mercury News reports. “A human isn’t required to click on an email link or to agree to install any software. Instead, the sites automatically download software onto visitors’ computers” – called “drive-by downloads.” Where do big news stories or Michael Jackson come in? Cybercriminals target the sites that get the most traffic. Computer security firm TrendMicro tells us that “this past week, we did see a lot of cybercriminal activity designed to take advantage of the rush to the Web, and search for information and posting of tributes to Michael Jackson. We tend to see this a lot for celebrities and big events (elections, Olympics, you name it). Where the people go, so do the pickpockets.” A particularly egregious recent example – specifically targeting kids – happened on the discussion boards for Neopets; FoxNews reports. It’s called social engineering: “The ploy is simply using normal human behavior (curiosity + rushing to the Web to popular places for info) against people,” TrendMicro adds. Users click around unthinkingly. “It’s like driving by an accident – our urge to satisfy our curiosity actually could put us in danger ourselves on the road.” Drive-by downloads = valuable new-media-literacy lessons. Mindful surfing, downloading, and uploading can be taught again and again in different ways, with the top news stories as talking points and teachable moments.

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