Tips & Tweaks: Avoid Viruses and Phishing Scams

If you follow my blog, you know I've been embroiled in an ongoing struggle to troubleshoot my PC, which went south after a recent windstorm here in Southern California. If that wasn't enough, I've also been getting phishing e-mails to deal with. And of course we all heard about that Kama Sutra worm that was supposed to wreak havoc on February 3.

All of this set me to worrying about you, and how you're faring. This week I've pulled together some free antivirus software to try, plus updates on phishing attacks and how you can avoid getting scammed.

Need Antivirus Software? Try One of These

If a friend asks which antivirus protection I recommend, I tell them about two: Grisoft's AVG Antivirus and Alwil's Avast.

I like these two because they do the job efficiently and they're both free. But both freebies have annoyances, just like their commercial brethren.

For example, AVG Antivirus won't automatically check for signature updates or perform a scan more than once a day. But you can do it manually whenever you need to: Just right-click on the AVG Control Center icon in the system tray and choose "Check for update from internet." For a full scan, open AVG and choose "Complete test" from the interface.

And Avast has an annoying pop-up that obliquely tells you your license has expired. A buddy got the pop-up and was confused. Here's what he wrote:

<blockquote>Hey, Bassman, Avast wants something and I'd like to know how to execute whatever it's asking us for. And we're not sure what it's asking us for... the note reads: "An error has occurred while attempting to update!" After clicking on it, all it says is the update failed because the license key for this product is invalid or expired.</blockquote>

If you get this message, don't worry; it's really an easy fix: Just head for the Avast Web site, register again, and you'll be sent a new license key by e-mail.

Free Cyberhawk Promises to Outwit Viruses and Spyware

If you use Novatix's Cyberhawk, there's a good chance you can dump your antivirus and anti-spyware programs.

I know what you're thinking, and no, the program isn't ad-driven, nor is there any spyware built into it. Novatix makes money by licensing its technology to other companies.

Cyberhawk is designed to guard your system by watching the behavior of invaders. Most antivirus and anti-spyware programs work after the fact--by adding a signature after seeing what the malware does. The program is still in beta, so if you decide to try it I suggest you do your testing on a PC other than the one you depend on--you may encounter difficulties (though I haven't yet).

Dig This: I've got an easy Flash game for you. All you need to do is keep your cursor away from the little guy. Don't let your guard down; he has an assortment of tools to grab your cursor. My highest score? I'm too embarrassed to say.

Deceptive New Phishing Scams

Oh, these guys and gals are getting smarter, sneakier, and way more deceptive. Their ability to create realistic-looking e-mails of, say, a message from a buyer at eBay or a note from Amazon.com, is remarkable.

The latest phishing scam I received depended on my curiosity and desire to do the right thing. It was from "bethfurball," a supposed eBay buyer frustrated because a seller hadn't sent her product or responded to numerous messages.

Oh, the poor dear, I thought; she's sending the message to me by mistake. I ought to at least let her know the e-mail went to the wrong person. Of course, I should have immediately wondered how it got to me. But I remained in a helping frame of mind until I spotted the gaff: In one of the design elements of the HTML e-mail was the giveaway misspelling, "Mesage from eBay member." Yep, you're right--I deleted the message.

Phishers also rely on coincidence. For instance, I recently bought something from Amazon.com. About two days after Amazon.com sent a confirmation e-mail, I received another message, politely explaining that my on-file credit card had expired. Coincidentally, it had, and my first impulse was to click on the link. LOL--no way, especially after almost getting burned by the eBay message.

Phishing Contests

If phishers worry you, it's with good reason. Read "Phishers Pose as IRS Agents" to learn how they exploited a glitch in a government Web site. They even scammed eBay officials; read "Phony E-Mail Tricks eBay" for details.

For help avoiding phishers, take a look at "Fight Fraud and Phishing With New Tools." And be sure to visit our E-Mail, IM, and VoIP Info Center to keep up on the latest scams.

Dig This: Have you ever wondered why old men in Italy have cell phones? It's certainly not to talk to anyone.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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