Malicious Websites: What Are They and How to Avoid Them

A malicious website is any site that’s been created to cause harm by stealing your private information, gaining access to your finances, or downloading unwanted software to take over

your computer.

Whether cybercriminals want to empty your bank account, steal your identity, or are really bored and just want to remap your keyboard so you type the wrong phrase over and over again, we all have to be hypervigilant to avoid malicious websites. 

The problem is, they look like legitimate websites. So how do you avoid them?

Identifying a Malicious Website

To steer clear of malicious websites, you need to know how to identify them.

According to tessian.com, some basic tactics of fake websites are when:

  • The website automatically asks you to run software or download a file when you’re not expecting to do so.
  • The website tells you your device is infected with malware or your browser extensions or software are out-of-date.
  • The website claims you have won a prize and requests your personal information to claim it.

Other clues you’re on a fake website

  • The URL looks suspicious. https://google.com is safe. https://google.[something].com is not. This is a subdomain of [something].com — which could be a malicious website.
  • The site does not use https. Most sites use https, rather than http, which indicates they are protected by an SSL certificate. However, some sites have not yet made the upgrade to https, and not all https URLs are safe.

Look for the lock icon symbol on your web browser. This means the website is secured with a digital certificate. 

According to eecu.org, a banking institution, “This means that any information sent between your browser and the website is sent securely, and can’t be intercepted and read by someone else while the information is in transit.”

However, the lock icon no longer means guaranteed protection. “It used to be that scammers and thieves did not bother to buy digital certificates for their fake websites … Unfortunately, the scammers have caught on … and know that people are more likely to trust a “secure” site that features the padlock icon. Because of this, they are increasingly securing their fake sites with digital certificates.”

Almost 50% of phishing sites now have the lock icon. Always make sure it’s there, but keep in mind that its presence isn’t a guarantee.

Protecting Your Data from Malicious Websites

Most people don’t look into the problems of cybercrime until after they’ve been victimized. The best way to stop data breaches is to prevent them from happening in the first place by following these guidelines set by the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Install and update security software, and use a firewall. Set your security software, internet browser, and operating system (like Windows or Mac OS X) to update automatically.
  • Don’t change your browser’s security settings. You can minimize “drive-by” or bundled downloads if you keep your browser’s default security settings.
  • Pay attention to your browser’s security warnings. Many browsers come with built-in security scanners that warn you before you visit an infected webpage or download a malicious file.
  • Instead of clicking on a link in an email, type the URL of a trusted site directly into your browser. Criminals send emails that appear to be from companies you know and trust. The links may look legitimate, but clicking on them could download malware or send you to a scam site.
  • Don’t open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is. Opening the wrong attachment — even if it seems to be from friends or family — can install malware on your computer.
  • Get well-known software from the source. Sites that offer lots of different browsers, PDF readers, and other popular free software are more likely to include malware.
  • Read each screen when installing new software. If you don’t recognize a program, or are prompted to install additional “bundled” software, decline the additional program or exit the installation process.

Remove Malware

Stop your online activity immediately if you think your computer has been infected. Stay away from your financial information. Update your security software and call your computer’s tech support team for help.

Good luck!

Tech Tips: 7 Ways to Keep Your Internet Secure

It’s likely that every person who’s ever been hacked is just like you: they never thought it would happen to them. But it can happen, and if you’re not on your guard it can easily wreak havoc on you or someone in your family. 

Luckily, there are some basic steps you can take to protect your information. 

1. Use a Unique Password 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve come up with some brilliant password combinations that were immediately forgotten. That’s the problem with passwords: if they’re easy for you to remember, then they’re easy to hack. If they’re hard to hack, they’re hard for you to remember.

Using a password manager is the best way to create a strong password and to keep your online accounts accessible, and there are free versions available.

2. Check Your Privacy Settings

Those social media accounts sure have a lot of information on you and yours. You might not be aware of how much is open to the public. Check your privacy settings and make sure there isn’t more information about you out there than you want.

3. Keep All Your Software Up to Date

Updates can be annoying, we know. They always pop up and get in your view right as you’re in the zone and working on important projects. But they’re crucial because they can remove old features and boost the stability of your software. They also often include patches that plug up security holes.

4. No Piracy

You may fancy yourself a rebel or think you look dapper in an eyepatch, but don’t succumb to temptation. Stay away from pirated material. We’ll say it again—Don’t download anything that doesn’t come from a safe, reputable site. These places are where hackers lurk for unsuspecting users to think they’re downloading the newest movie only to get a computer virus. 

Stick to trusted websites. Yes, you usually need to pay, but that’s how the creators get paid. No music, movies, and books that don’t come from a trusted source.

5. Don’t click on suspicious links

You may be curious, but it’s not worth the gamble. If a trusted friend sends you a link that doesn’t look like something they would send, or has no note with it, then contact them and ask if they reached out to you before you click.

They can be in your email, on Facebook, in ads, tweets, and messages. 

If you receive a message from your bank, credit card company, or other business that asks you to enter your social security number or password, always call them instead of giving out your personal information. 

Your bank won’t ask you to enter your social security number online.

Nor will the IRS call you and ask you to send them a gift card.  

Also, call the real number and not the one listed on the email they sent you.

6. Use a VPN

What’s a VPN? The good folks at howtogeek.com define it this way: “A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, allows you to create a secure connection to another network over the Internet. VPNs can be used to access region-restricted websites, shield your browsing activity from prying eyes on public Wi-Fi, and more.”

A VPN turns your data into military-grade encryption. This extra level of protection is significant.

Especially important if you like to work at Starbucks or use the library’s WIFI, your VPN will protect your information from being breached. A VPN is also a great idea if you fly a lot. Airport internet security is not ideal.

When choosing your VPN, take care. According to Forbes, “Not all VPNs are built the same. You need, for example, to be wary when a service is free and of course a VPN that logs your data is a definite no.”

7. Buy and Keep Anti-Virus Software Up to Date on your Computer

The title says it all. Use a reputable company and protect your computer with a software that will scan and identify any questionable downloads.

Taking the steps necessary to protect your internet today means you won’t regret tomorrow. Stay tuned for more tips like these!

Online Tools to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

There’s nothing like a brand new year spreading out before you like a new sheet of paper, unmarked and with no mistakes on it. If you’re like a big chunk of the human race, the new year is the perfect time to take stock of your life and figure out what you want to change.

However, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and that new habit, hobby or lifestyle you want can easily fall to the wayside and get abandoned altogether. 

A friend who is committed to fitness told me that in January it always gets far too crowded at the gym, but all she has to do is wait a few weeks and all the people go back to where they came from.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to fight to accomplish my goals. I want the months to go by and still be plugging away–to be the one who has the grit to stick to my resolutions.

Luckily, there are some online resources that help you stay motivated.

If you want to put your money where your mouth is, Stikk may be the site for you. They use the concept of “loss aversion” to help you stick to your goals. 

According to behavorialeconomics.com, “loss aversion is an important concept associated with prospect theory and is encapsulated in the expression “losses loom larger than gains” (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). It is thought that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining.”

With Stikk, you can invite friends and family to cheer you on, keep reports of your progress, and pledge a certain amount of money to a cause, charity, friend or enemy.  If you fail to keep at your goal, your hard-earned cash goes out the window. People generally choose a cause they despise.

Hate spiders? Schedule a donation to the American Arachnological Society. It will keep you extra motivated. 

If you want to make the process more fun, especially if you like to play online games, then Habitica might be more your style. With Habitica, you get rewarded for your hard work and–bonus!–get to fight monsters. 

According to the website, “Habitica is a free habit-building and productivity app that treats your real life like a game. With in-game rewards and punishments to motivate you and a strong social network to inspire you, Habitica can help you achieve your goals to become healthy, hard-working, and happy.”

There’s also the Apple Design winner, Streaks. “Streaks is the to-do list that helps you form good habits. Every day you complete a task, your streak is extended. Choose or create up to twelve tasks, such as walk the dog, floss your teeth, eat healthily, practice Spanish.” 

People love to see the chain of good habits. But miss a day, and you start all over again at zero.

HabitBull is a similar, more intensive tracker that is available for Android. You’ll get reminders, join a community, and see your progress in graph form.

Another kind of resource, Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life, is geared towards helping you be your best. With articles such as How to Achieve Self Mastery, The Benefits of Solitude, and 5 Social Listening Tactics to Generate New Customers, this site has a little bit of everything for everyone. From social media marketing to shoe repair hacks, you’ll find that perfect something that’ll help you keep on track for a better you.

Making resolutions may seem like you’re setting yourself up for failure, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a lot out there to help you succeed. 

You’ll find that small adjustments to your routine can make a big difference in your life.

Good luck!

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