The Norman Transcript

January 4, 2014

Did Santa send you some spam?


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — You may be eligible to receive government education money bill!” “Did you suffer a Gallbladder injury while using Birth Control?” “We want to buy your home for Christmas! Sell Your Home Today!” “Make $10,000 for Christmas!” “Bounci36D sent you a Holiday picture!”

As the holiday season moved on, many people noticed a huge increase in the amount of unwanted email they received. This is not unusual; it happens every holiday season. The message subjects listed above are a very small example of the spam email I received. The Internet bad guys make a huge effort every holiday season to scam as many people as possible, and this year was no exception. While some spam is from legitimate marketers, most of it is not.

Many spam emails had subject lines that simply read, “Christmas.” Upon opening the message, the reader would find a link leading to a shopping website that has unbelievably good deals on all sorts of fabulous merchandise. This is where things would start to go downhill. The website was probably bogus, and you never got anything out of the deal other than a big, fat credit card bill and the displeasure knowing that you had become a victim of identity theft.

Some dangerous spam emails contain links to alleged shopping websites, but when you click on the link, a message pops up telling you that you need to install a special “viewer” or some other file in order to see all of the good deals on the website. When you install the viewer, guess what you’ve really installed? A virus, of course. This tactic led to the huge success of the Storm virus in previous holiday seasons.

Another way that spam emails sucker in their victims is the promise of E-cards, or electronic greeting cards. You may receive an email claiming that “a friend” has sent a Hallmark holiday greeting card. Click on the greeting card attachment, and, bam, your computer is infected with a virus.

My rule for opening email attachments is as follows: the email has to be from someone I know, and the email itself has to say something like, “Hey, Dave. I am sending you an attachment. Here’s what it is (include description). The attachment’s file name is (include file name).” If I do not have that information, then the email and its attachment go in the trash.

Even after passing those tests, I will still scan the attachment for viruses before opening it. If I’m really suspicious, I will reply to the email and say, “Dear ‘whoever.’ Did you really send me an email attachment? What was it?”

It also pays to be wary of emails coming from unknown, but official-sounding sources. Not long ago, Pennsylvania State University issued an alert stating that bogus emails were being sent to students and faculty from email addresses such as administrator@psu.edu, webmail@psu.edu. and helpdesk@psu.edu. The official-looking emails were asking students and faculty to provide their user IDs and passwords, but the messages were fraudulent. They were also warned against holiday spam messages selling fake Rolex watches, offers to win gift cards or bogus electronic greeting cards. After all, what student could resist an email that said, “The Dean of the School of Architecture has sent you a greeting card?”

Most holiday spam scams can be thwarted by using a little common sense. Keep your antivirus/antispyware programs updated and running. More than anything, though, be suspicious of everything and be careful what you click on. Happy New Year!

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 919-9901 or davemoorecomputers.com.

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