Thursday, May 19, 2011

Be Careful What You Click For

On the internet, a click is a powerful thing. One click can pay a bill, send an important email, or download a dangerous infection. It is important, therefore, that you know what you are clicking. Here three quick tips to help keep you safe.

Browsing Securely
Part of Click Smarter: A Series on Safer Computing

#1. Search for It
Clicking on a link can be dangerous, especially if you are unsure of where that link will take you. Whereas you may come to trust Peacelight to provide only the safest links, other sites will not be so reliable. Instead of clicking on suspicious links, just open up your favorite search engine (e.g., Google, Yahoo) and search for whatever website you need.

The same rule applies for when you are not sure of a website's URL. Instead of guessing (""), and potentially ending up at a dangerous site, do a search. Search engines are going to turn up the most popular, most frequently recommended, and most accurate results.

This is, the junk site that would come up from guessing at the URL

A quick Google search reveals that the real White House website is

#2. McAfee Site Advisor
Downloading mysterious files can put your computer at risk, but downloading this tool will do just the opposite. The free SiteAdvisor from McAfee Security is available for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome browsers. You do not need SiteAdvisor LIVE, the paid service; just scroll down and download the free version.

Suppose you were searching for free screensavers. Could you tell which of the following is the dangerous site to click on?

With SiteAdvisor installed, all of your search results will include a rating: a green check-mark, a yellow caution symbol, a red warning, or white question mark. Green sites are safe to browse, but for any other site, click on the rating to get detailed information about the dangers it may pose.

The last site has the red marking; you do not want to go there. Let's try another example with pharmaceuticals:

Any ideas on which site has the real items for sale, and which is a scam?

It looks like only the first one is safe to click on. Clicking the rating icons provides additional information:

#3. Look at the URL
You can always tell where you are by the URL in the address bar along the top of your screen. Just look for the word before the "dot-com," "dot-org," or "dot-whatever." If you expect to be in once place, but the URL says otherwise, you may have ended up at a dangerous website. Sometimes, scammers create copies of legitimate websites (e.g., banking sites, eBay) to try and steal your information. Make sure the URL is correct, just before the dot. Take a look at these examples. is owned by is owned by; this is not eBay is owned by; this is affiliated with the university is from

There you have it: safe browsing in three easy steps. Of course, following these guidelines cannot guarantee that your computer and information will remain secure indefinitely. You can, however, help tip the scales in your favor. You don't need to stop clicking, you just need to be careful.

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