How to beat 22 Web security threats

Forewarned is forearmed. We investigate the latest and most deadly tech dangers, and explain how to fight back.

4. Malware-ridden public PCs

PCs in schools, internet cafés, tradeshows and libraries tend to be infected with password-stealing Trojan horses more frequently than other systems.

Many of these PCs aren't closely monitored by their owners, which increases their vulnerability. And because scores of casual visitors use them to log into email or other services, data thieves view the PCs as an efficient source of harvestable data, which they can sell on to spammers.

The fix

If you're allowed to reboot the computer, your safest bet is to carry a copy of the Knoppix bootable operating system (OS) on a CD, DVD or flash drive. You can customise your build with up to 2GB of internet tools, productivity apps and utilities.

If you have to use the machine's Windows OS, run your apps from a portable drive using the excellent PortableApps Suite suite of tools. This hosts dozens of apps that have been ‘portabilised' so they store all temporary files, cache files and history on the portable drive itself.

To protect yourself from malicious software that may be lurking on a public PC, scan the machine with the portable ClamWin Free Antivirus, and carry your own customised browser, office apps, instant-messaging clients and secure file-transfer tools. There's even a useful password-manager tool so that you can change passwords as quickly as possible.

5. Online credit-card scams

You get an email from a large online retailer, announcing that an order you recently completed is ready to ship. Great news - but you didn't order anything.

So you follow a link in the message that supposedly leads back to the site's login page. On it, a web-based form lists the wrong credit-card number and address for your account and requests that you confirm or correct the information to initiate the company's dispute-resolution process.

You're instructed to enter your card number, its expiration date, your billing address, the card verification value (CVV) printed on the back and your date of birth.

If you do, you'll be delivering your details into the hands of phishers.

You may not end up out of pocket for the whole amount the phisher manages to extract from your bank account, but banks are becoming less sympathetic to customers who don't do what they can to protect themselves. Higher bank charges and poorer deals for consumers are the inevitable upshot as banks seek to cover their backs from such claims.

If you get phished, you'll need to waste a great deal of time getting new cards issued, checking your credit reports and changing the numbers in various accounts if you use them for automatic payments.

The fix

Some banks offer single-use or ‘disposable' credit-card numbers for use on websites.

You can also set up an account with a very low credit limit - if you're exploited, it will be for a minimal amount.

It's also worth seeing what extra security measures your bank or credit-card company has introduced. Many banks offer free security software, while MasterCard, Royal Bank of Scotland and others have upped their online verification requirements. And you should always look for secure transaction symbols such as Thawte or PayPal when buying online, too.

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