With thousands of new sites being created every day, it’s safe to assume that a good portion of them don’t take the necessary steps to stay secure, and some are even made to compromise visitor data. So, how do you remain protected without slowing down on your web-browsing habits? Knowing what to look for would be of great help in avoiding unsafe sites.
Here are the five tell-tale signs that a website is unsafe:
- Dodgy URL
- Too many pop-ups
- “Download” call to action
- No SSL certificate
- Browser warning
Let’s explore all of these points in a little more detail and see how you can protect yourself and your data when browsing the internet.
People rarely notice the URL when browsing online, which is exactly what malicious actors are trying to exploit for their gain. If you visit a site that strongly resembles another more popular one, its URL would also look almost identical.
Scammers use these URLs that are very similar to legitimate sites in the hopes that a user would accidentally mistype the URL and land on their site.
Examples of dodgy URLs:
Websites like these are called impostor websites, and their goal is to get users from legitimate websites to enter their login information so that they can exploit it to commit financial fraud.
Too many pop-ups
Nobody is a fan of pop-ups, but it’s a common method that websites use for monetization . Where things get a little suspicious is when a website has so many pop-ups that it’s difficult for you to interact with the website’s actual content.
Legitimate websites know that too many pop-ups can annoy their visitors and cause them to leave. If a website isn’t scared of bombarding you with pop-ups and other CTAs as soon as you enter, the chances are that it has bad intentions.
“Download” call to action
Like pop-ups, an illegitimate website may also use aggressive marketing tactics to get visitors to download software that is most likely a virus. Software downloads from sketchy websites are actually the most common way of virus transmission.
Not all websites that have a download call to action are illegitimate. Still, if you see the download prompt as soon as you enter the website and little context is given about what you’re actually getting for downloading, the chances are that the website is trying to do something malicious.
Some other common downloads that scammers push are supposed Adobe Flash Player updates and warnings about your computer being infected with a virus, coupled with a malicious “antivirus” software download prompt.
No SSL certificate
An SSL or Secure Sockets Layer is a digital certificate that indicates the legitimacy of a website by confirming its authenticity. It also encrypts information sent to the server, preventing it from getting into the hands of malicious actors.
While not all websites that don’t have an SSL certificate are unsafe, they still present a risk for data interception, and you should be careful with what information you provide on these sites.
Furthermore, websites that use encryption made up over 80% of sites on the internet in 2019, and that percentage is probably even higher now. If a website doesn’t take the extra step to encrypt the data it shares, it may have some hidden motives.
Most browsers nowadays have pre-installed security features that issue warnings when users try to access potentially illegitimate sites. The browsers do this by scanning a website and finding potential issues that may put you at risk.
Not every time you receive a browser warning will mean that the website is unsafe, but it’s a good sign that you should investigate further. You can enter the website into a search engine to see if it’s flagged as “suspicious” by other users or the search engine itself.
Additionally, security software installed on your computer can also issue warnings when it detects that you’re trying to enter a website that it deems suspicious.
Protecting Yourself from Unsafe Websites
Even though harmful websites are as present as they’ve ever been, there are now way more tools that you can use and steps you can take to remain safe while browsing. Here are the most common ones:
Never reuse passwords across multiple websites
Since many harmful websites mainly aim at acquiring your personal login information, it is wise to always use unique, non-personal passwords preferably generated by password management software.
Update Your Browser
Web browsers constantly come out with new updates that make them safer. Make sure that you are always running the latest version of your browser to take advantage of these features.
Enable Search Engine Security Features
Search engines also have security features you can enable to make browsing safer. For example, Google has an “always use HTTP” feature, which only displays encrypted websites.
Always Keep Firewall On
Your operating system comes with a firewall that prevents malware, viruses, and hackers from compromising it. It’s crucial always to have the firewall feature enabled. It would also help to install some third-party antivirus software for added protection.