The number of things we can do on the internet grows every day. New services, new features, easier to use applications, and increased internet access means that we are using more services online and giving out more of our personal information than ever. With sites constantly popping up to offer you new and exciting services, how do you protect your information and make sure that a website is safe? Let’s take a look at ways you can make sure the website you’re using is safe and your information remains secure.
Know the Site You Visit
The first thing to look at is the site itself. It is important to know the company that owns the site you are going to visit. What does this mean? Say you are looking for a streaming service so you can watch movies. There are several options out there, with a few big players. Knowing the companies have good records for security and not abusing information you given them goes a long way to keeping you secure. You cannot keep information secure if the company that you gave it to does not handle it properly or abuses the access to it.
Watch your address bar closely as well. A site may claim to be affiliated with a brand but contain a “typo” that can be hard to differentiate from the real thing. For example, clickmysite.com might become clickmystie.com. If you’re not paying attention, this can lead to you visiting the wrong site. At worst, try a website safety check tool, like this one from Google.
Google Safe Browser Check https://transparencyreport.google.com/safe-browsing/search
Type in the Site Address
The easiest way to tell if a website is safe is to type in the web address instead of clicking links. Scammers will often create similar websites to real websites with website addresses that are incredible reproductions of other sites. Doing this is called phishing. They will send you an email, pretending to be that company (often riddled with spelling errors and no personal information) with an “urgent notice” that requires you to log into your account. Clicking the link takes you to another website that has nothing to do with the company and everything to do with getting your login information. You try to log in. The website tells you there’s an error but there is no error. They now have your login and password and can access your real account.
Typing in the name directly is the best way to know where you are going. There are other ways to tell but they can be difficult as well, especially with link shortening sites. Hovering over the link will show you the link but if they use a shortener site like bit.ly if can be very difficult to tell the actual address.
Should I Click on Links?
A good rule of thumb is to only click links you have requested or were told are coming from a trusted source. If you do get a link from a friend or family member, check with them to make sure they sent it as hacked Facebook and email accounts will often send out malicious links. As an example, here are three links. Two of them are to the wrong site and one is the desired link to Google. See if you can figure out which one is the right choice:
Link 1 Link 2 Link 3
It may have been a bit more difficult than you thought it would be. All the links above are harmless but this isn’t always the case. Be careful as to which links you click on. Please keep in mind that even typing in the website does not guarantee that you will end up in the right place. If someone is able to change the DNS server to redirect the website name to a different IP address. This is known as pharming. This rarely ever happens due to the limited number of DNS servers and the incredible amount of security they offer but it is possible.
HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure. When you look at the address bar, you should see HTTPS at the beginning of the web address. Instead of seeing http://www.paymepal.com , a secure site should display https://www.paymepal.com .
Look for the HTTPS
Why is HTTPS more secure than HTTP? HTTPS uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) technology which uses certificates from Certificate Authorities (CA). These CAs have been validated through your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.) to meet their standards for security and authentication. It is essentially a mark of approval from your browser to help you identify a site that has better security systems in place.
The certificates allow transmission of encrypted information between your browser and the server. It acts like a decoder ring for your information. The information is encrypted and the certificate allows that encrypted information to be read at the other end. This makes it difficult to intercept and interpret but not impossible.
Use a Secure Network
When you connect to a network, your device is vulnerable to being accessed by other devices on the same network. Even if there is no direct access to your device, others may be able to monitor your online activity. This is why it is generally not advised to access sensitive sites (online banking, government websites, etc.) on public networks (like public wifi hubs at the local coffee shop). You have no idea who may have access to the information you access. At home on a secured network, this is much less of an issue. However, make sure your home wifi network has a strong wifi password to access it to keep it as secure as possible.
One way to help avoid some of the dangers is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts the information you send and receive while you are online. It helps to keep you anonymous and allows for your IP Address to be changed. This can help to disguise your location, prevent hacking, and allow you some breathing space while browsing online. There are many VPN providers out there offering competitive prices and the products are easier to use than ever before. A lot of VPN services often have offers or offer codes that may offer a further discount or free trial period for you to try out their product.
Get a Good Antivirus and Firewall Program
A good antivirus and firewall is protection that you cannot afford to miss, especially today. It does not have to be an expensive solution. Microsoft even supplies a basic anti-virus and firewall with every copy of Windows 10. It isn’t the best suite of programs but it does infinitely more than having no protection. There are also many free options that will also work. Check major sites like tomshardware.com, techradar.com or pcmag.com who do annual ranking of the best and worst products. The overall feel, quality, offered features, and, in some cases, performance can vary with each release. Preventing a virus getting onto your system is more effective than trying to remove viruses already on your system. Most antivirus programs have shown in tests they will pick up the majority of the virus set up on a system (somewhere around 80% towards the top end). In contrast, firewalls have been know to block out as much as 99% of viruses before they get in.
We have taken a look at several ways to help keep you out of danger. A good antivirus and firewall will keep out most viruses and help kill the few that may get through. Knowing the site you’re visiting and using safe browsing tools to check out newer or unknown sites will help you to avoid visiting the wrong sites. Do not open links in emails unless you were expecting the link. Hover over the link to see the target website to check if it actually links where you think it does. Type the website you want to visit directly into the address bar. Do not access sensitive information over public network connections. Protect your home/work wifi with strong encryption and a strong password. Using a VPN can help to protect your information across your devices. Following these steps will go a long way towards keeping you and your information safe and secure.