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Top Internet scams to watch for in 2007

In 2007, cybercriminals will explore new territory. They'll launch attacks using consumer-collaborative sites such as MySpace and YouTube, instant messaging, image spam, send more targeted phishing scams and launch networks of zombie computers.

If you're not careful, you could install malicious software -- malware -- that will open up your PC to criminals. Or fall for a money-making scam.

Malware
Malware is an umbrella term for various types of malicious software or programs, including viruses, Trojan horses, worms and spyware. Most of what malware targets is confidential information, says David Marcus, security research and communications manager for McAfee Avert Labs. Malware writers look for data they can steal for a profit or use themselves, he says. "It's very financially motivated."

Unfortunately, cybercriminals can profit off consumers in a host of ways whether they're stealing money or information. Malware can search for passwords on a user's computer or install keystroke-logging software, among other exploits. Fraudsters generate revenue when someone clicks on their spam or through renting out networks of compromised computers called  "botnets"  to other cybercriminals. People duped into entering credit card or account information into phishing Web sites provide money-making resources for criminals.

Plus, these crooks make money buying and selling consumers' identities in the underground market.

"Identities are being sold on the Internet every day," says Ronald O'Brien, senior security analyst with Sophos Plc, an Oxford, England-based Internet security firm. "The more complete a profile is, the more valuable that profile becomes."

Happily, it's not hard to protect your computer from these schemes. "People don't need to be security experts," says Marcus. They need to be aware of security threats and what can happen, and then take the appropriate precautions, he says.  "We don't think it's doomsday."

For starters, however, understand that anti-virus software protects your computer pretty well as long as you update it frequently, but it's not all you need to do.

"Anti-virus software is not always 100 percent," says Paul Wood, a senior analyst at MessageLabs. "It depends on how new the attack is," he says, adding that anti-virus software can only protect users from malware it already knows about. Given that malware writers can simply download anti-virus software from the Web like anybody else, they can test their attacks to see if the software detects it. They can then tweak their malware until it escapes discovery. 

That's where awareness comes into play. We asked Internet security experts what they predict to be the biggest security threats in 2007 and how you can best protect yourself against these threats. They listed six scams to watch out for.

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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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