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Scam Alert

Cyber-Threat Trends of 2013

Experts predict a surge in computer and cellphone scams

Madware. Short for "mobile adware," you may know them as pop-up ads or texts on your cellphone. At best, they're irritating; at worst, they give scammers sensitive data such as your location and stored contacts. After seeing the most aggressive forms increase by 210 percent since mid-2012, Symantec expects more madware problems as companies try to make money off free mobile apps by selling collected info to advertisers.

Social network payment sources. Social networks are offering more pay services, such as opportunities to send gifts or promote status updates. So expect cyber-crooks to follow that money trail.

"Symantec anticipates an increase in malware attacks that steal payment credentials in social networks and trick users into providing payment details and other personal and potentially valuable information," notes Haley.

Search history poisoning. First, malware-spreading scammers created their own fly-by-night websites. Next, they upped the ante — and believability — with "search engine poisoning" — manipulating search engines such as Bing, Google and Yahoo to display search results that lead you to dangerous destinations. And while these efforts will continue, the latest threat is "search history poisoning." This involves exploiting the record that's kept of websites that you've visited. When stored as part of an online profile, a search history lets hackers extend their scamming potential.

"If you compromise a computer, the victim can always switch to a clean machine and your attack is over," notes Georgia Tech's Wenke Lee. "If you compromise a user's search history and hence his online profile, the victim gets the malicious search results no matter where he logs in from." You can help foil this one by clearing your browser's search history frequently, or turning it off altogether.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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