Stay safe while browsing the internet

Safe browsing

There are few who would deny the benefits that the internet has brought. You not only have all the knowledge of mankind at your fingertips, making it the ultimate study tool, you can also reach out to customers, communicate with friends and families, live your entire social life on its platforms… and we’ve not even mentioned the funny cat videos. It’s the tool par excellence of procrastinators and, well, let’s face it, masturbators. And it’s without doubt, one of the most important inventions of the 20th Century.  

But it’s not all good. You don’t have to spend long on the internet to know that it has its darker side – there are a lot of dangers out there in the online world. And we’re not just talking about websites that cater to the darker sides of human nature – the porn sites, the dodgy chat rooms or sites with the ultra violent videos. These can easily be avoided or even blocked with the right tools.

You need to consider how internet browsing can impact your IT security. There are a lot of sites out there that were built, simply as a way of stealing data and planting malware into your systems. Some sites have ways of mining your personal data, stealing your credit card numbers or simply causing you a heck of a lot of headaches. So you need to browse safely, whether you’re simply killing a few idle hours online or doing important research. And you have to understand that it’s now easier than ever, to clone a real website or set up a very professional looking one that can be used for malicious purposes. The tools are getting better all the time, so you need to be very careful about sites you visit.

With that in mind, here are Empower IT’s top tips to staying safe while browsing the net.

The risks you face

  • Viruses and spyware – we’ve talked about these types of malware at length in our blogs. Remember they are not always delivered via emails. A seemingly innocent link or download from some sites will infect your systems.
  • Phishing scams – there are a lot of sites offering services and products out there, but some have been set up to get your personal and financial information or to steal your identity for use in future crimes.
  • Fraud – shopping sites, dating, gaming and charity sites are often established with the aim of defrauding people for services that aren’t provided or simply taking money and data.
  • Copyright infringement – in some cases the criminal could be you, or at least you’re aiding and abetting criminals. Remember that often, copying or downloading copyright protected software, films or photos is a crime in itself.

How to stay safe

Keep your browser software up to date

This is probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to safe browsing. New patches are constantly being released to tackle and fix vulnerabilities in the software. These patches often take into account the latest malicious malware so install them as soon as they are released.

Bookmark your most visited sites

We all have websites that we visit regularly, sometimes several times a day. It’s a good idea to bookmark these sites so you go directly to them each time. There are a lot of sites that mirror popular web addresses and if you mistype the address, you could end up on a familiar looking, but malicious site.

Be constantly wary

Often, staying safe while browsing is simply a matter of common sense. When you click onto a new site, check if there is a business address, phone number or email contact. Sometimes a quick call can establish how authentic it is. Look for misspellings and extra characters in web addresses too. If you are planning to buy things online, be wary of sites that ask for more personal details than seems necessary. You should also avoid nearly any website that is promoted in any unsolicited emails.

Look for the padlock

Before you enter any of your personal details into a website, look at the browser window, if there is no padlock icon before the usual ‘https://’ before the web address, don’t enter any information. This symbol shows the site has a security certificate issued by a trusted third party. A click on the padlock gives you a rundown of the security information. Be wary of any sites that don’t have a https:// prefix as well.

Check links

By simply placing your mouse pointer over a link, you can see where it leads. This is usually shown in the bottom left hand corner of your browser. If this destination is not the same as that displayed in the text of the link, be very careful about clicking it.

Be wary of popups

We’re all well used to being assailed by pop ups offering freebies, free trials of services and games, but many of these lead to malicious sites or at the very least, tiresome marketing. Don’t click on anything if you can help it, unless you know exactly where it might lead.

Use firewalls, virus protection and strong passwords

The security precautions you should be taking as a matter of course can also help keep you safe while browsing. Many malicious sites use tried and tested malware so anti virus software has a good chance at detecting it, while a firewall can help give further protection. When it comes to passwords, remember to use the usual combination of letters numbers and special characters and change these as often as you can.

Get expert advice

If an internet offer seems too good to be true, it usually is. Ask yourself what are the chances that a Nigerian Billionaire has chosen you to receive his billions. If you are pondering making investments in shares or rarities offered online, seek professional advice first.

Careful with cookies

Most cookies are innocuous and are simply used to keep track of what you’re doing on a site to save you time when you come back. But some can track you to bug you with advertising and they can be used by criminals to build up a picture of your browsing habits and preferences. Set your browser to tell you when a cookie has been installed (if you block them completely, some sites won’t work). You should also have anti spyware installed to keep an eye on any tracker cookies.

Close the browser when you’re done

It is vital that you logout of secure websites after you have carried out any transactions, and before you close the browser. Simply closing your browser doesn’t mean that you’ve logged off a site and your details could still be there for all to see.

The Director of Empower IT, Salim Sukari says, “The internet is a smorgasbord of tempting offers and seemingly trusted sites that can put your networks and personal data in danger. If you’re not dealing with one of the big internet players, take precautions. Don’t share personal information unless you’re sure it’s going to be secure and be wary whatever site you visit.  

For more information on any aspect of IT and internet security, contact the team at Empower IT. We are more than happy to give you the benefit of our expertise.