Making the choice: Desktop or Web-based e-mail

Are you a user of Web-based e-mail such as Gmail or Yahoo!? Or do you use a desktop e-mail client such as Postbox, Outlook or Sparrow? Each e-mail option features its own pluses and minuses. As a recent story by the Lifehacker Web site says, some users will do better using a desktop e-mail client and others will thrive with a Web-based e-mail system. Are you currently debating over whether to install that latest desktop e-mail client? Or are you contemplating signing up for Gmail? Deciding if Web-based or desktop e-mail is best for you necessitates a close look at your computing habits.

When desktop makes sense

Here’s who ought to be employing a desktop e-mail client, according to Lifehacker: Users who have multiple e-mail addresses with different domains, those who have to access their e-mail messages even when they’re offline and people who filter and block e-mail messages based on subject headers, senders and specific words. Lifehacker also recommends the use of desktop e-mail clients if you like making use of security features like encryption and digital signing.

When Web-based e-mail makes sense

Lifehacker supplies a list, too, that will help you decide if a Web-based e-mail system is the better option for you. First, if you prefer a single inbox for all your e-mail, Web-based e-mail might make more sense in your case. Secondly, if you only maintain a few e-mail addresses, you can choose Web-based e-mail. This kind of e-mail is practical, too, if you do much of your work at the office or at school. Often, your employer or school won’t let you download and install a desktop e-mail client on their computers.

Plenty of choices

No matter if you go with desktop or Web-based e-mail services, the good news is there are more alternatives than ever before when it comes to e-mail. There was a time e-mail was just about ignored by technology companies. Today, though, companies have launched a wide variety of e-mail services, both Web-based and desktop, that can make organizing and managing your e-mail messages a simpler task than ever before.

Hackers now targeting smart phones

Cyber criminals have long centered on running their swindles on PC users. And they have been tremendously successful in stealing personal data and stealing funds from countless people. Now these cyber criminals are unleashing their malware attacks on smartphones, tapping into another huge potential market of gullible users. This should come as being a surprise to nobody. Smart phones are booming in popularity. And many users treat their mobile devices as miniature computers. They surf the Web, send e-mail messages and bank online using their smart phones. Fortunately, you can take measures to ward off mobile malware. It mostly requires that you employ good judgment when navigating the internet using your smart phone.

Scary Numbers

The security firm F-Secure offers rather frightening numbers: According to the firm, the volume of malware attacks directed at mobile Android devices quadrupled from the first quarter of 2011 to the same quarter in 2012. That’s one among the numerous unsettling statistics regarding mobile malware. CNN Money writer David Goldman, for instance, recently cited an article from security firm Lookout Security that four in 10 smart phone users will click or swipe a suspicious Web Link this year. Goldman also writes that mobile phone cyber attacks have spiked by a factor of six, according to numbers revealed from anti-virus company McAfee.

The Good News

There is some very good news, though. In spite of the surge in smartphone malware attacks, such cyber crimes continue to be relatively rare, particularly if when compared to the frequent attacks on PCs. Goldman writes that McAfee by the middle of 2012 had found about 13,000 mobile malware types. That sounds like a lot. But the same company found more than 90 million forms of malware attacks leveled against PCs. The reason for the discrepancy? First, smart phone code is relatively new. Programmers have learned from the many cyber attacks unleashed against PCs. Secondly, cyber criminals have done so well in attacking PCs, they haven’t had as much incentive to target smartphones and other mobile devices.

Protect Yourself

You can safeguard your phone from mobile malware attacks. Start by getting anti-virus software from reputable companies. Be cautious, though–cyber criminals could create bogus anti-virus software that doesn’t protect your phone but instead sends these criminals your information. Also, make sure to research any app before you download it. You want to be sure that it is offered by a reputable company. Finally, be equally as wary of phishing schemes as you would be while sitting in front of your computer. Never provide your Social Security Number, bank account numbers or other important information in an e-mail. Your bank will not ask for such numbers in e-mail.

Internet trivia for a new year

What do you actually know about the Internet? Sure, you know that the ‘Net helps you view your favorite TV shows, download the greatest hits collection of that hot new band and play word games with contacts who live on the other side of the planet. But did you know the way the Internet actually works? Probably not. Luckily for us, the editorial staff at Web site Business Insider are ready to help. The Web site recently produced a feature highlighting a number of the more unusual facts about the Internet. Here are some tidbits that will help you raise your Internet IQ.

Facebook is King

We know Facebook is huge. But the social network company is not only big. It rules cyberspace. Business Insider quoted data from Hitwise to discover just how big of a player Facebook has grown to be: Facebook accounts for one in every five page views on the Internet. Facebook also, in September of 2012, reached 1 billion users.

The Biggest Data Center is Rising in Utah

Business Insider also mentioned that the largest data center in the world is now being built in Utah. The National Security Agency is behind this center, and when the data center is finished, it will store a yottabyte of data. You might not know what a yottabyte is. But it’s big. It equals 1,000 zettabytes or 1 million exabytes, according to Business Insider.

Streaming is on the Rise

Do you stream movies or Tv programs to your TV, computer or tablet? Even if you don’t, the odds are high your neighbor probably does. Streaming has become one of the Internet’s most widely used features. According to the Business Insider story, quoting statistics from Harris Interactive, greater than 50 percent of U.S. residents are using the Internet to view TV. Streaming video has become a particularly desired service among the younger customers that are flocking to Web streaming. As stated by Business Insider, streaming is a big hit among consumers younger than 35.

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How To Protect Yourself From Ransomware

Have you ever heard of ransomware? It is a particularly frightening new form of malware. A recent story published by Slate goes into the details of how it attacks your computer. After clicking on a dubious link from an email or a webpage, your screen will instantly turn grey. Then a message pops up that is branded to look like it’s from the FBI. Additionally, it has you on a live webcam feed!

That isn’t even the scariest part. A message will then appear on your screen telling you that you have violated copyright laws and have two choices. One, pay a fine within 48 to 72 hours, or two, go to prison for as much as three years. You are also told that if you do not pay your computer will be locked indefinitely.

A real threat

Obviously you will not be charged with anything if you don’t pay, it is a scam. However, they may actually be able to lock you out of your computer according to a senior security advisor quoted by Slate. So should you just pay the fine to prevent this, it’s usually in the $100 range, or not? Maybe not, once they have your money there is no guarantee they won’t lock your computer anyway to get more money.

True protection

McAfee, the well-known maker of antivirus software, noted that it recorded more than 120,000 new examples of ransomware attacks in the second quarter of 2012. How to protect yourself? Exactly the same way you protect yourself from any type of malicious code. Make certain you have antivirus software installed on your computer. Just as significantly, don’t visit dubious websites, illegally download files to your computer, or click on strange links in email addresses.

And if your computer is infected? This is a pretty complex type of malware. To revive your computer, you might need to recruit the help of a computer security expert. Slate also suggests that you contact the real FBI by filing a complaint at www.ic3.gov.

Antivirus Software: Not As Protective As You Think

Most of us think it’s vital that you keep your antivirus software up-to-date. This is how we can protect our systems from viruses. Recently MIT’s Technology Review published an article that opposes this “given” we have all lived by.

Antivirus Software: Unreliable?

The antivirus software that we have paid for and long trusted to shield our information may not be effective. The technology is running a race with malware programs and malware is winning. More sophisticated and tricky to detect malware comes out every day and this is very concerning to those of us who access the Internet on a daily bases.

Burned by Flame

One of the most complex examples of malware to date is Flame. Flame copies documents, audio, network traffic, and keystrokes made on a computer that has been infected by it. The scary thing is, Flame has been active for a couple years now. During all of this time, no security software has been developed to detect this malware.

An Industry Under Siege

As the Technology Review story says, though, Flame is far from the only malware to slip past antivirus software. Several complex malware attacks in recent years have avoided detection by antivirus software. The story quotes an official with an antivirus firm who labeled Flame as a major failure of the antivirus industry. What’s this mean for you? Only that your computer probably isn’t nearly as safe as you’ve thought. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t install any antivirus software on your computer. Until the security side of the computer industry catches up, antivirus software remains your very best chance of thwarting a virus attack. Just don’t be overly surprised if that antivirus software fails.

Protect Your Data by Being Aware of Security Challenges

As technology changes cyber-criminals adapt to it. Recently MIT’s Technology Review published an article concerning the biggest technology security threats of 2012. Most of us spend a lot of our time online: working, surfing the Web, or just chatting with friends via social media. If you spend time online, being familiar with these threats can help defend you and your data.

Stolen, Spoofed Certificates

One significant problem the article concentrates on is stole or faked certificates. Certificates are utilized by websites that you log into, like your bank, that prove the site can be trusted. In 2011 the faking of these was a frequent strategy used by cyber-criminals and it is believed to be a continuing problem in 2012.

A Common Security Mechanism in Trouble?

This is a major problem because the use of certificates and encrypted data is the most popular security mechanism on the web. If they can no longer be trusted, that means probable trouble for all computer users.

Technology Review also pointed to online attacks referred to as “hacktivism” as a key security challenge for this year. Groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec crack passwords and break into company sites. Often, these groups do so to show that companies are woefully unprepared to manage hackers. Sometimes, they target companies or businesses that they believe are guilty of wrongdoing. Regardless of the motivation, expect these groups to continue their so-called hacktivism in 2012 and beyond.

Home Automation

The growing popularity of home automation also presents security risks in 2012. As Technology Review writes, a growing amount of automation systems connect security systems, thermostats, lights, as well as the locks to homes’ front doors to the internet. Think of the damage that hackers can do if they break into these systems.

Your Small Business and Data Security

When it comes to data security, you might believe you have enough safeguards in place to protect your small business. After all, you probably frequently update your antivirus software and other security protocols too. And it’s not as if you’re a large company that needs to worry about having their systems breached by sophisticated hacking techniques. With tens of thousands of delicate customer records on file, these massive firms are the ones who must be concerned about cyber attacks, right? As it happens, digital thieves have greatly escalated their efforts when it comes to stealing from small businesses. To help you learn more about your level of danger, let’s look at this important topic in depth below.

Small firms: low-hanging fruit

The facts are, hackers have realized that small enterprises are easier targets, and are increasingly preying upon them. They can infiltrate their systems at a considerably faster rate, and with a better percentage of success as well. This means a cyber criminal can assault multiple targets in the time it would take them to lay siege to a better-guarded system with a higher level of data security. How can it be worth their while to steal from a mom and pop business? In the current modern world, just about any business utilizes digital payment processing methods. When your customers pay using a credit card, this data must run through your system to be verified. This represents a goldmine of data for hackers, as they can lift this data without being detected. With your customers’ credit card numbers, addresses and names, they can make fraudulent charges on their accounts.

How hackers gain access to your data

Hackers usually take a multiple-point-of-entry approach when trying to breach your company. Don’t be fooled that email is the only way a hacker will attempt to infiltrate you. While destructive email attachments are the most popular tactics that hackers use to mine data from a company, they also use low-tech methods as well. Direct phone calls to lower level employees or possibly a in-office visit posing as system administrator are some of the low-tech ways criminals may target your company. You may believe your workers are impervious to these seemingly obvious ploys, but it only takes one mistake to open your company up to an attack.

The buck stops with you

You may think that preserving your data security isn’t that crucial, as the credit card companies are liable for any bogus charges that occur. Although this is true for the consumer, as a business owner you might experience a very different result. Often if your systems have been compromised, they’ll hold you responsible for finding the breach. This could cost thousands of dollars and can ruin your profit margin for the entire year. In fact, some small businesses have been bankrupted by cyber attacks, closing their doors due to only one incident.

An ounce of prevention…

Taking extra precautions when it comes to your business’ data security is a very wise move. Continue to update your programs and passwords on a regular basis. Teach your employees good security practices like setting up strong passwords and instructing them to never give out login information or open suspicious emails. Hiring an outside consultant is another great way to ensure your clients’ information. These measures not only give you peace of mind, they tell your clients that you care about keeping them safe.

Microsoft steps up to take part in the war against cyber crimes

It looks as if Microsoft is ready to do its part to discourage cyber crimes. Microsoft intends to offer real-time feeds that partners can use to examine potential cyber threats and take the proper steps to boost their defenses against these attacks.

Microsoft has already had success in taking down botnets. In doing so, the company collects a great deal of valuable data about the threats that these botnets pose. The procedure works like this: Microsoft basically swallows the botnets. This, in turn, sends botnet-infected hosts to addresses which are under Microsoft’s control. This captures the infected hosts and takes them offline.

Microsoft can now collect threat information and share it with ISPs, government agencies, private companies, and CERTs. The result of such a move by Microsoft can be dramatic. Analysts point out that while a real-time threat feed won’t lower the volume of attacks, it will help information security professionals respond to these threats faster. This might limit the level of damage caused by these attacks.

Microsoft’s live threat feed may have a far more important impact: It could lead the information security industry to share more data. For too long, companies have hesitated to discuss important security information that they fear could lead to a copycat attack. This is a mistaken belief as cyber criminals are already trading information among themselves. It makes sense, therefore, for security professionals to also share real-time information.

Microsoft’s real-time feed is a good first step toward a change for the better in IT security. Let’s hope this trend continues and that the IT security world will realize that secrecy is not more useful than sharing information!