Breaking news, no matter how wonderful or horrible it may seem, can be a breeding ground for scams, especially on the Internet. Just as ticket scalpers look to make a profit off concerts and sporting events, scammers are looking to take advantage of people on the hunt for the exclusive scoop in big name news. And nowhere has that been more evident than the latest string of scams surrounding the highly anticipated royal birth of Prince George.
Royal baby followers were clamoring for any bit of detail they could find on news of the newborn, giving scammers an excellent in by advertising “exclusives.” The promised exclusive content, of course, led to fake sites loaded with malware. By baiting in potential targets with news of the baby who is now third in line for the throne of England, spammers were able to leverage the vast amount of public interest in everything from the baby’s gender to his name, and even promised “secret pictures” of the newborn.
These are just a few in a laundry list of tactics scammers regularly employ to trick news junkies into compromising their computers, including malvertisements (ads which link to malicious websites), phishing scams (malicious emails, text and social media messages disguised as something familiar to you), and the increasingly popular mobile phone malware, which can infect your smartphone with a variety of programs designed to spy on you.
Another popular tactic, and the one often employed when major news hits, is called “search engine poisoning.” Through the use of popular search terms—customizing a website so it appears high on search engines like Google and Bing—and tricky linking tactics, hackers put malware-infested websites right before the eager eyes of consumers looking for up-to-the-minute news.
These tactics can be difficult to spot if you’re not careful with what sites you visit. Waiting for the story to develop before you search can save you from possible malware deceptions. But for those of you who just can’t wait, there are steps you can take to protect yourself next time you’re looking for the latest news to hit the Internet:
- Stick to Trusted News Sites: Established news sites may not entice you with exclusives for one solid reason: there usually aren’t any. Try to stick to major sites that you trust like CNN, The Atlantic, even Buzzfeed for breaking news. However, trusted sites can also fall prey to hackers. Make sure to use a safe search tool that will notify you of risky sites or links before you visit them.
- Don’t Download Videos from Suspect Sites: This should be common sense, but it bears repeating: don’t download anything from a website you don’t trust — especially video. Most news clips you’d want to see can easily be found on YouTube or Vimeo, and don’t require you to download anything. If a website offers an exclusive video for you to download, don’t.
- Don’t “Log In” or Provide Other Information: If you receive a message, text or email or visit a third-party website that asks for your information—credit card, email, home address, Facebook login, or other information—for access to an exclusive story, don’t give it to them. Such requests are a common tactic for phishing that could lead to identity theft.
- Install Comprehensive Mobile Protection: If you do decide to search for information on a major event, make sure you have malware detection software such as McAfee® Mobile Security to protect your smartphone or tablet from all types of malware. This app will guard you from the latest mobile threats and risky apps, offers enhanced privacy and backup features, location tracking and McAfee SiteAdvisor® to help you steer clear of dangers when searching on mobile. And, if you have multiple devices in your home, consider McAfee LiveSafe™ service, which protects all your devices from your PCs to your smartphone.
News stories can be exciting to follow, but there’s one type of excitement we’d all like to avoid: losing your sensitive data to hackers and cybercriminals. For exclusive updates on consumer security threats and web search safety, be sure to follow us on Twitter @McAfeeConsumer and Facebook.