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How do I know if a website is safe?

Published onDec 04, 2019
How do I know if a website is safe?

It’s hard to avoid: everyone ends up on a website which looks “kinda off” from time to time. But how do we know when a site is shady?

Some websites will pretend to be others by using the same graphics, colors, and logos. There’s even less control over “knockoff brands” online than there is elsewhere, and this goes for websites using logos as much as it does for handbags.

Secretly, sites like these may be trying to install malware on your device, or get you to give up financial or personal information. Other websites may try to trick you by having a similar-but-not-exactly-the-same address, as mentioned earlier. Quickly leaving “off”-looking sites which you may have found by accident is good advice for defending your digital “fence” generally.

How to keep calm and carry on

Does something look wrong on the page you just accessed? Are the graphics not quite right? Does the page not look as professional as you expected?

If something’s off, take a close look at the address in the top bar. This is the only real way to tell if the website is the one you think it was. So:

  • Judging by the web address, is it not the site you thought? Are there spelling mistakes? Close that browser window and follow the instructions in the “Watch your spelling!” section of the book.

  • You can actually look up who owns a particular website, to double-check that it is who you think it is! Here’s how.

  • Look for the lock. If the lock icon by the web address in the top bar of your browser is open, crossed out, or red, proceed with caution. Don’t enter financial or personal information. If you were trying to reach your bank or a shopping site, look up their phone number in another way (not on that website—on your debit/credit card, or in your printed records) and call them.

  • HOWEVER: Note that the lock does not solve everything! The lock only lets you know if the authentication certificate for that website is valid. The trouble is that plenty of sites let their certificates lapse.

  • Finally: Fries do not go with that shake. If a window on your machine is jiggling and shaking around for an extended period of time, it is NEVER anything good. Other techniques malware may use to get your attention include bright scary colors, flashing words or pictures, or menacing fonts. When you see something like this, close it (“X it out”), ignore it, report it: as they say on the internet, “nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure.”

For more steps you can take to protect your digital security and privacy, check out the security section of this website and pick up a copy of Keep Calm and Log On!

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