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Safer web browsing in 5 simple steps

What don’t we use the internet for these days? We check email, read the latest news, stay in touch with friends, find sports scores and stats…and that’s just before breakfast! Using the Internet is commonplace and comfortable, and in some cases even necessary. Even so, surfing the Web has its dangers.

The fact is, the internet is an ever-shifting landscape. More pages pop up daily, with new applications, new capabilities, and new information sources. While plenty of the sites and features we use are perfectly safe, scammers are working overtime to take advantage of unsuspecting surfers.

There are specific elements and behaviours you should watch out for online. Here are five pitfalls to avoid when browsing.

1. Prompts to run or download software.

Malicious websites can generate pop-up that look like messages from your browser or computer. A random prompt to install or upgrade software is a warning sign. Don’t click anything in an unexpected pop-up window; only install software from known, trusted sources.

2. Promises of free content, software, and products.

If someone online is offering you something for free, it’s highly likely there is a catch. Free movies, music and video often include pirated material, for example illegal content, as well as hidden viruses and other malicious software. Plus, free products are often given in exchange for personal information, which criminals can use to access your home and business account. “Free” is tempting, as scammers know all too well. Don’t get caught paying the price.

3. Doctored and shortened URLs.

URLs (or Web Links) are essentially the addresses for websites. It’s important to look closely before clicking because scammers can easily manipulate URLs to fool you. One common trick is to use known brands to create a sense of security. Even if you see a known name in a URL, check for other things like hyphens, symbols, and numbers, which can be warning signs. And be mindful of shortened URLs from services like Bitly and Tiny URL; these are often used in social media and completely mask the true identity of a link. If you’re at all concerned about a link, it’s best to use a search engine to identify a legitimate URL for a site you want to visit.

4. Bogus search results.

When using a search engine, it’s important to study your results before clicking. Hackers try to secure high-level search results and trick you into visiting their sites. Scrutinize URLs to ensure they are legitimate links, and be especially careful if you are searching for popular or trending topics. Scammers will act quickly to capitalize on celebrity news, recent deaths, and major disasters by creating fake web pages about these topics.

5. Convenience features like "Auto Complete" and "Remember Me".

Sure, it can make life easier to allow your browser to automatically complete web forms for you or to allow commonly visited websites to store your passwords. The problem is, it makes life easier for scammers as well. Dangerous websites can take advantage of auto-complete features and use hidden fields to steal the data from forms. And if criminal should gain access to your computer, any sites with stored passwords would be easy pickings.

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