The next time you stumble upon a website offering free ringtones or an email attachment with a link from an unknown sender, think twice before clicking because if you are not armed against identity theft- take our quiz on the subject- these websites could hurt you. If it’s not from a top-level domain (TLD), like a .com or a .gov address, you could be putting your personal information in jeopardy. (See MainStreet's checklist on how to combat identity theft)
Tech security company McAfee (MFE) recently reported on the most dangerous domains lurking around the Internet. At the top of the list is Hong Kong, or .hk, which over the past year jumped up 27 places on the list. But Hong Kong isn’t alone. McAfee also flagged TLDs from China (.cn) and the generic domain .info as posing a high risk to the average web surfer.
The list of dangerous domains, which were sorted by country, act as a tour guide for the web, according to the report’s author Shane Keats. “It’s similar to a Lonely Planet site,” he says “This is what you look at when you want to know where the good and bad sites are.”
So, what happens when a clueless internet user clicks on a dangerous domain? The outcome varies. While the threat level ranges from annoying to serious, users are vulnerable to a barrage of junk traffic and unwanted email lists. Some may even have spyware installed onto their computers, which can wreak havoc on a personal computer. Web settings can also change, in addition to monitored web surfing and a slower Internet speed.
While most Americans aren’t familiar with domains from Hong Kong or China – sticking primarily to .com, .biz, and .org sites– there are roughly 60,000 .hk domains on the internet, says Keats. But knowing which sites to be wary of can be difficult, especially when crooks often register one site, and then link to a corrupt domain.
And, with the bad comes some good. The report ranked Finnish domains ending with .fi, as least risky, along with those from Slovenia (.si), Norway (.no) and Japan (.jp).
In light of the average internet user’s often unguarded systems, Keats urges web lovers to protect themselves. “I don’t care what program you use,” he says, “as long as it’s reputable, it’s good.”
For those without security protection programs, frequent PC Magazine contributor, Matt Safford offers a few tips to avoid internet dangers. “Use an alternative browser, like Firefox or Safari (AAPL),” says Safford. If you use Internet Explorer (MSFT), Safford recommends disabling the ActiveX controls. While they increase functionality between programs, ActiveX controls can also make your PC vulnerable to external hackers looking to exploit your saved passwords. However, if you are caught in an identity theft situation, read MainStreet’s article about how you can recover from identity theft.