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Issue #129: January 10, 2010

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You may not know what Cyber Security is, or why it’s important to you, but trust me – whether you’re a total computer and Internet neophyte, or a seen-it-all die hard geek, issues of cyber security affect you whether you want them to or not.  So, in this week’s column I’m going to cover some of the cyber security issues that we will all face in 2010.

First, you need to know that Malware is on the rise.  For those not in the know, Malware is a general term for any undesirable software including such nasties as viruses, Trojans, worms, and a whole bevy of different types of internet traps.  According to PandaLabs, a reviewer of major Information Technology incidents and events, there were some 25 million new malware threats produced in the past year.  Compare that to a combined total of 15 million over the last 20 years!  Now more than ever it is absolutely essential to equip your computer with reliable scanning software that updates automatically.  But, scanners can’t protect you from everything, or even most things.  Fully 66% of the newly identified occurrences were banker Trojans, and a substantial percentage were in a class called “rogueware” which includes legitimate-looking software such as phony anti-virus programs.

SPAM e-mail will continue to be a huge threat in 2010.  In November 2009, the latest month for which counts were available, it is estimated that 92% of all e-mail traffic was SPAM.  The means that spammers use to trick victims into opening these e-mails have gotten more nimble and sophisticated, and will continue to do so, with the latest tactic using current events such as H1N1, or a celebrity death as a lure.  Many such e-mails now appear within hours of the legitimate story breaking, showing just how determined the spammers are.  SPAM itself has gone beyond being a mere annoyance.  Many SPAM e-mails now carry a payload of malware software that can infect your computer without any outward signs, and some without you even clicking on it.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have all seen a rise in cyber security problems.  One such problem is known as “click jacking”, in which a malicious link is placed in an otherwise-legitimate context.  This same technique is often used to skew search engine results by artificially driving site visit counts higher than they should be.  Yes, there is money to be made by driving traffic to web sites, so someone will be trying to exploit it.

Many of us have experienced security problems with the software loaded directly on our computers.  Microsoft issues regular security updates to their software, and their software has traditionally been the most targeted by malware authors, probably because of the huge installed base of users, and arguably lax security practices.  In recent years, Microsoft has begun to get their act together, so the malware guys are starting to look for easier targets.  Experts expect to see a rise in attacks in software from Adobe Systems, including Flash player and Acrobat Reader.  That’s not to say Microsoft software will be problem-free.  Watch for a high number of security updates for Windows 7, and when you hear about them, get them installed as quickly as possible.

One other thing that may have slipped under the radar:  Expect to pay more for laptop batteries in 2010.  In November, South Korea’s second largest battery manufacturer, LG Chem, suffered a significant fire.  Manufacturers such as Lenovo, Dell, HP and Asus all will be affected, as the number of available batteries from this primary supplier is likely to drop by 40%.  LG Chem estimates it may be able to get production levels back up in two to three months, but in the mean time, it will be up to third-party brands to fill the shortfall.

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