The risks include:
* A new wave of malcode-carrying spam - Throughout the year, the IBM ISS X-Force security research team has observed a growing wave of "parasitic" malcode. These are malicious email payloads that bypass end-user security software (anti-virus, personal firewalls, etc.) and compromise the target computer. Once compromised, the computer comes under the remote control of criminals. This holiday shopping season, the X-Force team expects a wave of socially engineered "holiday cheer" emails that pack a malicious punch.
* New phishing theme: Bank merger mania - As banks continue to struggle and merge, the X-Force believes criminals will exploit shaky consumer confidence in the banking industry with a wave of phishing attacks designed to fool banking customers into revealing personal information such as account numbers and passwords.
* Spoofed online portals - As Black Friday approaches, IBM ISS expects to see phishing gangs launch a new generation of fake online shopping portals that spoof well-known brands, in an effort to steal credit card information. They also will likely promote these counterfeit sites with emails, offering steep discounts or "special sales."
* Tainted toys and gadgets - Every Christmas brings an abundance of electronic gadgets, smart-phones and auto-play DVDs. Past X-Force research has shown that some of these toys are loaded with malware and can be used by cybercriminals as a backdoor for entry into corporate networks.
* Web browsing is risky business - In the past year, cybercriminals have increased their efforts to deface public Web sites by hiding malicious links on legitimate Web sites. When people visit these tainted sites, the hidden links automatically exploit vulnerabilities within their Web browsers and install malware that siphons off confidential end user or corporate information.
IBM ISS recommends that computer users protect themselves and their companies by adhering to the following common-sense steps: Scrutinize all emails - As a standard practice, the X-Force recommends never opening email attachments from anyone, unless it is a file you expect. Email attachments could be infected at anytime, even as attachments from trusted sources. Update all security patches - Many people delay installing critical patches. The X-Force recommends applying all security patches and software updates as soon as they become available. The X-Force warns people to pay specific attention to updates for Web browsers and their plug-ins (e.g. Quicktime, Flash, Acrobat, etc.).
Resist deploying unapproved "gadgets" on a corporate network - In particular, people should not connect any unauthorized devices via the USB ports in their computers. Network compromise through USB devices is an evolving threat for many companies. The X-Force strongly advises companies to disable USB port access throughout the corporate environment, but it is the end-user's responsibility to get clearance before putting a cool new "toy" on their employer-issued laptop. Keep PIN numbers secret - Many identity theft and fraud scams today focus on stealing credit and debit card information. Consumers should never provide their PIN to any Web site (even ones that look like their own bank). Similarly, consumers should never give their information out over the phone, particularly on a call they have not initiated (criminals are increasingly using the phone to steal personal information.