When Giving Up the Internet Isn’t an Option: 12 Tips for Safe Browsing

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Life Saver on Boat Dock

We are on the internet constantly – according to USC Annenberg’s 2017 Digital Future Report, the average American spends about 23.6 hours online a week. In this digital age, it’s not really all that surprising. You can do nearly anything you need to do via the internet, from banking to entertainment, shopping to research, and work to school. With so much of our lives spent online, it’s easy to forget one crucial fact:

The internet can be dangerous.

On average, about 30,000 new websites are hacked each day. And it’s not just the ‘shady’ websites, either. Any website can be the target of a cyber-attack, with the end goal being to steal data, time, money, identity, and a myriad of other things from you, the user. From adware to ransomware, just opening an infected webpage can be all the invitation a bad piece of programming needs to wreak havoc on your system. One wrong click and before you know it, your identity has been stolen, your bank account is empty, or all your data is being held hostage.

You might be tempted to swear off the internet all together. Unfortunately, for most people, that’s just not possible. Businesses large and small alike depend on it for daily operations. Our kids may be using it to do research for their homework. Some people even have refrigerators that connect to the internet!

There is no way to protect yourself 100% from bad websites. However, there is a lot you can do to decrease your risk. Take a look at some of these tips to help keep you safe while browsing the internet.

1. Install antivirus software and keep it updated.

While not foolproof, antivirus is a good first line of defense against websites with malicious code. An up-to-date antivirus program can detect and remove malware on your machine. It can also help prevent drive-by downloads, or malicious software that downloads itself to your computer when you visit an infected website without your knowledge or input. However, since it relies on definitions of already-known malware, it may not always catch newly released malware.

2. Pay close attention to URLs.

We all make typos (I’ve probably made and had to retype parts of this blog at least a hundred times already!). Unfortunately, some hackers will count on this to infect your systems. For example, a malicious hacker may create and register a website full of malware at googel.com, hoping to catch people who accidently mistype the name of the popular search engine. Be very careful when typing out URLs.

Another part of this tip is to pay close attention to any links you’re about to click on. If you can’t see the link, hover your mouse over the highlighted word until the actual link pops up in a small box near your mouse. Read it carefully. If any part of it looks misspelled or suspicious, don’t click!

3. Use an ad-blocker.

Ads are annoying, especially pop up ads. A lot of internet browsers now have built in ad-blockers. Turn them on and use them! Ads can contain malware that will infect your system if you click on them. Some may not be infected themselves, but may lead you to websites that are infected. Using your ad-blocker will prevent the browser from displaying most ads and stop most pop-ups in their tracks.

4. Avoid types of websites that are prone to malware infections.

While any site can be exploited, the most common types of dangerous sites are gambling, adult, gaming, torrenting, and illegitimate video streaming sites. Avoid these if you can. While they may not all be infected, why take the risk?

5. Look for the lock and the ‘https’ in your links.

This is especially important when using any sort of website that requires you to enter a username, password, credit card information, etc. (such as online shopping or a bank). Websites that start with ‘https’ encrypt data before sending it out, protecting it from anybody who manages to intercept it. When you visit a page, it should look like this in the browser bar:

HTTPS Secure Site

6. Only download from sites you trust.

Coming across a website that flashes and says “YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED! Click here to download the software you need to clean it!” can be scary, but unless it’s your real, currently running antivirus software showing you an alert, it’s probably fake, especially if coming from a website. Do not download anything you don’t trust or you may end up with a REAL virus.

7. Look out for phishing attempts in your email or elsewhere.

Suspicious emails are all everywhere. They prey on your fear by telling you your account will be deleted if you don’t click a link and log in, or get you excited by saying you won something. Don’t fall for it! If it looks odd, don’t click anything! Look for misspellings or bad grammar, generic greetings, and incorrect email addresses to alert you to possible phishing attempts. (Check out some of ADNET’s previous blogs here, here, and here for more information on identifying phishing scams.)

8. Shop on safe websites.

Here’s one for all of you shop-a-holics out there: no matter how good a bargain it seems, buying something from a seedy website is a big no-no. Stay safe by only using trusted shopping sites and don’t enter your credit card information on sites you’re not sure about.

9. Beware public or unsecured Wi-Fi.

It’s awfully nice of many public places to provide free Wi-Fi to customers and patrons. However, many of these networks are not safe, and all the data you send over that connection could potentially be intercepted and stolen. If you must use these connections, try installing a VPN (Virtual Private Network), a piece of software that can help establish a more secure link. There are lots of free options just a google search away.

10. Use a DNS-level protection service.

DNS stands for domain name service. When you browse the internet, the DNS acts as a sort of translator between the human-understandable URL and the machine-understandable IP address. DNS protection services can act as a filter. That is, when you navigate to a URL or click a link, it can look at the content you’re trying to view and say, “HEY! You’re about to go to a bad website! Are you sure you want to continue?” This can be handy, as there are a lot of free solutions out there preconfigured to block certain sites and types of sites, which can protect you from adware, malware, and content you don’t want to see.

11. Make smart password decisions.

Passwords are annoying to have to remember, but they are absolutely necessary in protecting your sensitive online data, such as banking and shopping accounts. Here are some password tips:

  1. Don’t use the same password for everything. If one account gets hacked, you can bet they’ll all be hacked pretty soon after.
  2. Enable two-factor authentication if possible. A lot of different sites are now offering this option, which requires you to provide another piece of information aside from a password to login, like an additional code texted to your cell-phone.
  3. Disable auto-fill options. It’s easier to have your browser remember all your passwords for you, but if it does, that means they are being stored, so if you’re compromised, an attacker can crack them! Use a password manager if you need one. There are several free options readily available on the web.

12. Use common sense and go with your gut.

When it comes to safe surfing, you are the first and last line of defense. If you’re not sure about something, trust your instincts. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and it’s no different with the internet.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list of how to safely surf the internet, it’s a good start. Tread carefully, and hopefully you’ll stay safe.

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Amy Zimmermann

Amy Zimmermann

Amy Zimmermann joined the ADNET Technologies Security Team in 2018 as a Junior IT Security Analyst.

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