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Malware is a growing threat, one that can impact everyone from a casual computer user to a Fortune 500 company. More than just a virus, malware is more like a catch-all term for any kind of malicious software that can infect a computer and be used for harm. Now, thanks to a new Swiss initiative and a team of volunteers, cybercriminals have a little less leverage for attacking computers.

The project, URLHaus, relied on volunteers within the cybersecurity company to seek out websites that distribute malware. These websites can infect your computer even if you don’t engage or if you visited by mistake, and it’s a common tactic that hackers use when they get you to fall for a phishing attempt. More than 100,000 of these websites have been identified and taken down in the last ten months.

A malicious website is just one of many different avenues for infecting your computer, but it’s a widely used method of attack. When a scammer sends out a phishing email that spoofs a known company, for example, the link within the email will often take the victim to a harmful website where the malware infection takes place. Common phishing emails include copycat messages from your bank telling you there’s a problem with your account, fake emails from known retailers like Amazon or PayPal, requests to verify your identity or account information, and many other believable messages.

Scammers can also use social media to get their victims to visit a harmful website. Private messages that appear to come from someone you know, telling you to click here to get this incredible deal or see these unbelievable pictures they found of you, for example, are widespread. Of course, actually paid ads for interesting products and fantastic sales can also redirect users to a fake website.

Once you visit the website and interact with it, the malware is installed on your computer or mobile device. It might be ransomware that locks up your computer, spyware or adware that tracks your online activity, a keylogger that steals everything you type (including account logins), and more.

So how does the cybersecurity industry fight back? One website at a time, which is why the project and its volunteers are so crucial to protecting tech users. Unfortunately, finding these websites scattered across the vast world wide web is a slow and tedious process; of course, getting the companies who host the sites to take them down can take even longer, about an average of eight days from the date of notification.

While the volunteers continue this vital work, the next step for URLHaus is to help those web hosting companies take action more immediately. Some companies respond within a day, while others take as long as a month. The bigger the company and the more customers they have hosting websites through their platform, the longer it can take to investigate a site that’s been reported.

In the meantime, there are some behaviors that tech users can deploy that will help them avoid some of these sites…

1. Never click a link in an email, text message, or social media message unless you’ve verified it with the sender; don’t just trust that you know the sender, either, since accounts can be hacked or copycatted.

2. Avoid clicking on ads in social media posts unless you can explicitly trust the company and the link. When in doubt, simply do a quick internet search for the product and the seller in order to look at the item more closely.

3. Most important of all, make sure you have a reputable security suite installed and updated. Antivirus software isn’t enough anymore, not with so many different threats out there. A lot of great software developers even offer their products at “freemium” pricing, which means there’s a price plan for every budget. There’s literally no excuse to not protect your tech.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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