ITS Tech Tip: Beware When You Search for the Latest News Online
Celebrity news sells newspapers and gets clicks for websites. That's a given.
But you may not realize that cybercriminals have figured out that hot stories can get people to fall for online tricks too, so says computer security company Symantec in a blog post.
When a computer criminal writes a new piece of malicious software, they need a way to get it on to your computer. One way to do that is to trick you into clicking on a link for a website that is specially built to transmit the malicious software to your computer.
When a big news item breaks -- for example, a natural disaster or a celebrity death -- computer criminals go to work to make their malicious sites to show up at the top of search engine results. They do this through a process known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO can be used for legitimate or illegitimate purposes. If you know how to use the system, you can ensure that your site rises to the top of the results returned by Google, Yahoo or other search engines.
Computer criminals try to get their site to show up on the first page of search results when someone is looking for the latest news. Then, someone doing a general search for news is tricked into following the bad link.
So, how do you keep from falling into this trap? The most important thing you can do is to look carefully at the addresses of the links returned by your search engine before clicking on them.
For example, Google shows the full web address just below the snipped description of each search result. Before you click on a link, make sure it goes to a site you trust. If you've never heard of the site before, give it a pass.
The best protection is to err on the side of not clicking a link you're not familiar with.