How to beat 22 Web security threats

Forewarned is forearmed. We investigate the latest and most deadly tech dangers, and explain how to fight back.

16. Phishing without email

In a traditional phishing attack, a scammer sends out millions of phoney email messages that are disguised to look as if they come from legitimate companies.

But researchers at security vendor Trusteer say that ‘in-session phishing', a new type of attack, could help criminals steal online banking details by replacing the email message with a pop-up browser window.

Scammers might hack into a legitimate website to plant HTML code that looks like a pop-up security alert. This asks the victim to enter login information and to answer other security questions that banks use to verify a customer's identity.

For attackers, the hard part would be to convince victims that the pop-up notice is legitimate. But according to Amit Klein, Trusteer's chief technology officer, a bug found in the JavaScript engines of the most widely used browsers can be used to make this type of attack more believable.

By studying the way browsers use JavaScript, Klein has found a way to determine whether someone is logged into a website, provided that they use a certain JavaScript function. Klein has notified browser makers and expects that the bug will eventually get patched.

Until then, criminals who find the flaw may be able to write code that checks whether web surfers are logged into, say, a predetermined list of 100 banking sites.

"Instead of just popping up this random phishing message, an attacker can get more sophisticated by probing and finding out whether the user is currently logged into one of 100 financial institution websites," Klein says.

17. Fake review sites

This is a scam that PC Advisor and many other respected reviews sites have been targeted by. You may come across a cogent-sounding review of a product that appears to be (but is not) from PC Advisor. The product gets a great write-up and you know the advice you've been offered is independent and honest, so you click the button to buy the item in question. But it's a fake site that uses a web address that closely resembles the URL of the real website.

In reality, the likelihood of you coming across a rogue review is slim. According to Lawrence Abrams, owner of BleepingComputer.com, fake reviews will only be seen by those who install dodgy fake security apps.

When some variations are installed, they add a series of entries into the Windows hosts file which direct users to fake websites. "By adding these entries into your Hosts file, if you go to any of the websites listed, instead of going to the legitimate site, you will instead be redirected to a site under the control of the developers of Anti-virus-1 and not realise you are doing so," said Abrams on his site.

The fix

Firstly, make sure you type in the exact web address of a trusted site. Usually, we'd suggest Googling the name of any suspect item and reading up on a number of sites to see whether the software you think is legitimate really is. But the scareware writers seem to have thought of this, seeding the web with assurances from security companies (on fake websites) about the program. Google is addressing this, but consider whether what you're being told sounds too good to be true.

If in doubt, ask around using web forums. Alternatively, grab one of the tried-and-tested security programs that we include on the PC Advisor cover DVD and run a scan to see whether your PC is infected.

Tags phishingcyber securitymalware

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