The following is from a series of articles I wrote for the education section of the Central Oregonian.

Phishing and more…

Happy New Year! Readers have emailed in the past months with various technology questions. Here are three good ones to share:

1. My daughter and I have a question about ‘phishing.’ What is it and how is it different from spam?

Phishing is the term used for a fraudulent attempt to gather personal or financial information using electronic means. The attempt may be made by email. Some are easy to spot (like the Nigerian man who wants to send you $150,000 if you’ll just provide your bank account number). Some attempts are more sophisticated and include realistic logos and Web addresses. The senders will usually try to get you to provide your social security number, bank account info, or passwords. They will pose as your bank, an attorney, the IRS, or a similar authority and try to convince you that you need to verify personal information online.

The attempt to get your personal information is what makes phishing different from spam. Spam is simply unsolicited or unwanted email. Junk mail. A good way to remember the difference is that phishing is like fishing: trying to catch something.

A final caution about phishing is that it is not only attempted via email. The attempts can also be made through instant messaging or even by phone. The best thing to do in any of these cases is to NOT provide sensitive information or click on unknown links. If you feel that the message may be legitimate, contact the institution for verification.

2. I know about .com and .org Web sites, but the other day I saw a commercial with a Web site that ended with .mobi. Please explain.

The final letters of a Web address indicate the site’s domain. Currently, there are two main divisions – generic and country code.  Domains like .com, .org, .edu, .mil, .gov, and .mobi are generic domains. Domains like .us (United States), .br (Brazil), .eu (European Union), .cn (China), and so on, are country code domains. With some exceptions and restrictions, the generic domains are available for public use. Here’s a list of the most popular and their intended uses:

.com – commercial, for business or general use

.org – organization, for non-profits or associations

.net – network, for businesses or resources related to Internet infrastructure

.info – information, for information-rich Web sites

.mobi – mobile, for sites designed for mobile browsers (PDAs, phones, etc.)

.edu – education, restricted to accredited universities or colleges

.gov – government, restricted to US government agencies

.mil – military, restricted to US military use (Department of Defense)

3. When is it okay to use all-caps in email messages? (I heard someone joking about it the other day and I don’t understand why.)

It’s generally never a good idea to use all-caps in an email message. First, in email, typing a message in all-caps is considered shouting. Second, all-caps is harder to read. (Notice that most newspapers don’t use all-caps for the text of articles.) So, save the caps for emphasis and use them sparingly; you’ll make your messages easier on the eyes and when you DO have an important point, the capitals will make it stand out.

Continue to send in your questions!