SOFTWARES AND SOFT WORDS –
CYBERCRIME AS A TECHNICAL AND SOCIAL PHENOMENON
PART 2: SOFTWARE – THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND ONLINE CRIMES
We could simplify the subject of these articles by saying that phishing scams, and online scams in general, stand on two feet: the technological foot and the social foot. The former is needed for the latter to work effectively, and is more widely understood and discussed in the first place, so we shall start there.
An online software developed or used for a crime is usually simple, for it has only one purpose: to steal something from you quickly and efficiently. The criminal websites employing this software are also actively hunted and closed down, so the criminals expect their software to become useless fast. They want something they can set up easily and that will do its work quickly without much effort.
A classic example of this is a false website mimicking a real, trusted website. A phishing scam may imitate, for example, a large bank, copy the website’s log-in page, and then send an email to thousands of people claiming they need to urgently log-in to in their bank account to prevent some imminent danger. There is a link to the fraudulent website in the email. The victim follows the link, tries logging-in, and as soon as the information has been submitted to the website it is transferred to the criminals who will then use it to log into the victim’s real account.
However, no technology is infallible. The criminals cannot ever make a perfect copy of a real website. For instance, in the website’s address they cannot use exactly the same address as the real one, as it is already reserved and in use by the legitimate company. Criminals need to rely on simple deceptions such as changing the ending of the address (say, from “.com” to “.net”) or replacing letters with numbers (writing the letter O as the number 0, for instance). Therefore you can protect yourself by carefully studying the suspicious websites and trying to find any clues of something being wrong.
You may have also heard this simple yet effective piece of advice: do not click suspicious links. Instead, bookmark any important websites in your browser. Once you get a suspicious email, do not click the link – instead, use the real page you have bookmarked in your browser to find the real address.
Another great piece of advice is to change your passwords frequently, because your information may be compromised due to someone else making a mistake. A website that has stored your personal information could suffer a security breach, and hackers could steal your password together with thousands of others. However, any stored information is obsolete as soon as you change it. Chances are that if you change your important passwords frequently, the criminals can only try in vain to access your accounts with the old password they have.