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Malware will spread through instant messaging

What it is: Threats via instant messaging will hit the spotlight in 2007 says David Cole, director of Symantec Security Response, because more young people are using instant message rather than e-mail to communicate. Threats include getting spam instant messages or "spim" from strangers and even friends.

Paul Wood of MessageLabs explains that users may suddenly get instant messages from someone on their buddy lists. It may say something like, "Look at this great link." Seeing that the message comes from a friend may put the user's guard down long enough to click on a link and accidentally download malware. "People don't take time to check with the person who sent it to them," he says.

Unfortunately, the friend may not be behind the instant message. As Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report for January to June 2006 explains, "The infection of one computer can result in messages being sent to all users in an IM contact list on that machine, creating the potential for rapid proliferation."

Here's a real example of spim, or spam over instant messaging. Notice that the link appears with no explanation of where the link would navigate to if clicked on or why it has been sent to the recipient. If this link was clicked on, malicious code would install on the user's PC.

What's worse from a security standpoint, some instant messaging clients allow their users to communicate directly with friends belonging to different IM communities. For example, Yahoo! Messenger users can import contacts who are using Windows Live Messenger and send them messages without installing the latter's software. Cole cautions that threats may start to hop from server to server.

What you can do: Don't trust unsolicited instant messages. If a suspicious message -- say, a sudden message containing only a link with a vague phrase -- comes from a friend, verify that your friend, and not an IM bot or virus, sent you a link. "Type a message back to the person who sent it to you. Say, 'Why, what's there?'" says Wood. "See if there's someone on the other end of that message."

As for getting instant messages from strangers, Cole recommends changing your privacy settings to block instant messages from anyone not on your list of friends. If you know someone is going to be sending you a friend request, you can turn it back on, he says. "Generally I know when someone is going to send me a friend request. It doesn't happen randomly."

If someone sends you an attachment, save it to a folder and scan it first, says Marcus.

You can also get anti-virus software that works with instant-messaging clients, Wood adds. Read the product description carefully so you know what you're getting.

6 types of Internet scams on the prowl:
Attacks using Web 2.0 sites will increase.
Malware will spread through instant messaging.
Volume of image spam will rise.
Phishing e-mails getting more sophisticated, targeted.
Botnets will grow in popularity among cybercriminals.
Phone threats will soon strike.
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-- Posted: Feb. 22, 2007
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