Are you someone who always knows what’s trending online? The latest breaking news, the trending memes, or Twitter buzz? You can find out a lot online, but surfing the internet can also teach some hard lessons. Browsing mistakes can lead to identity theft or get your computer infected with malware (software that infects your computer and causes harm).
As we explained in our blog about clickbait, most cyber crimes begin with a click that either lands you on a fraudulent website and/or downloads malicious software. But fear not: with good browsing practices and some simple tools, you can surf in relative safety.
First and foremost, be on guard. Avoid questionable websites. Criminals often use adult content sites, file-sharing sites, and social networking sites to work their mischief, so be careful clicking on ads or links in those places.
Most malware is delivered in Flash files (often used for animations and ads on a web page), Java scripts (programming behind a web page), or PDF files. You can help control what software runs in your browser by using its privacy and security settings to block ads and ask your permission before executing Flash files. (Privacy settings can usually be found under the browser’s main dropdown menu under Preferences or Settings.) And, of course, don’t download or open files from sites you don’t know.
But even reputable websites can be spoofed (impersonated by a duplicate site), so it’s also important to know which sites are trusted. Anti-virus software such as Norton Security or the free Firefox plug-in Web of Trust will flag trusted and non-trusted sites. Free software is sometimes worth exactly what you pay for it, and malware sometimes masquerades as free security software, so be careful downloading freeware. Google also has a page where you can type in a website address and find out whether suspicious activity has been reported on that site.
If you have young or elderly family members who are less internet-savvy or security-conscious, there are additional steps you can take to protect them, so look for that in an upcoming post.