How to protect yourself from such attacks? How can we tell if a website is legitimate and safe to use? Read more about it in the rest of this article.
What risks threaten the user when visiting dangerous websites?
Accessing a fake website can expose you to hackers who embed malicious code in the website’s files and downloads that can compromise your security firewall and gain access to your computer.
So-called phishing attacks occur when an attacker pretends to be a trusted entity in order to gain your trust and steal your information or identity. They often try to trick you into opening a fake email, clicking on a malicious link, or installing software that can breach your security systems. A prime example is spam emails that try to convince you to give them your login or credit card information. Once they get your credit card information, they can commit credit fraud or steal your money.
- Harmful computer programs or malware
Online predators can insert malicious code such as pop-ups, defacements, advertisements and search engine warnings into a website. If you click on any of these links, they automatically install malware on your computer, steal your data, and encrypt your data in a ransomware attack.
Filling out forms on a fake website puts you at high risk of identity theft. Attackers will often use this information to impersonate themselves, steal your information and/or money, or commit other crimes in your name.
How to identify illegitimate websites?
Contrary to what you might expect, it’s very easy to spot a fake website if you pay attention. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Bad and unusual website design
Review the layout of the website. Online scammers don’t often invest in design, because it costs money they’d rather not spend. They usually put together sketchy places in minimal time. Most elements on this website will not work. For example, sliders may not be able to navigate the home page. Images may fail to load and embedded videos may not play. The overall user interface can also look outdated. Essential elements will make a website responsive.
You can also watch out for company branding colors, which hackers often get wrong.
- Grammatical errors in the text written on the page
Unless malicious actors are invested in a fraudulent attempt, they often make mistakes with the language on a website. One thing to watch out for is terrible grammar. Well-organized and legitimate sites often proofread the content on their web pages to avoid structural and grammatical errors. All in all, one of the clear signs that a website is legitimate and safe to use is if the page contains text that has been proofread, with no grammatical errors.
“Playing” on the user’s feelings
Observe the mood the website uses to convey information. Scammers know how to appeal to your emotions and create fear, urgency or anger to get you to take the desired action. They use manipulative language to extort you, which most legitimate websites won’t do.
Lack of support pages
In an effort to remain as mysterious as possible, most fake sites lack essential pages that you would find on legitimate sites. Hackers try to remain anonymous by burying contact and support pages deep within their fake websites. If the pages exist, they will have fake contact information. Email addresses will have strange extensions, such as .xyz, .site, or .contact, and website phone numbers will have foreign country codes or won’t go through.
How do you know that a website is legitimate and safe?
As a general rule, learning a little about identifying safe websites will protect you from many fraudulent websites. Here’s how you can tell if a site is legitimate.
Check for HTTPS and SSL certificates
The first thing you should check on a website is the secure transmission protocol, which is often shown as “HTTPS://” right before the website domain. HTTPS is a secure extension of HTTP. Websites that use only HTTP are not always secure, although not all websites are fake. Using HTTPS means that the website uses an SSL certificate or Secured Socket Layer. SSL creates end-to-end encryption between the server computer and your computer, ensuring that all your communications are secure and keep malware and attacks at bay.
Do you see the gray padlock next to the domain in the address bar? It’s another way to check if a website has an SSL certificate. Clicking on this padlock also displays the SSL provider and connection security.
Check the reputation of the website
Another quick way to check the legitimacy of a website is to use a website reputation checker. An excellent example of a reputation check is Google Safe Browsing.
To check if a website has content that Google flags as dangerous, copy the website’s URL into the Safe Browsing page status checker search box and click “Search”.
Another unique way to check the security of your website is VirusTotal. VirusTotal uses over 70 antivirus scanners to test a website for malicious code or malware. In the same way as Google’s Safe Browsing tool, you can determine how safe a domain is using this tool.
Check the domain name of the website
Before opening a website in your browser, double-check the URL to make sure it’s correct. Just hover over the website link in Chrome or Firefox. You should see the full URL and its path in the lower left corner of your browser. Pay attention to the spelling in the URL. Sometimes cybercriminals clone the original website and use a link that closely resembles a high-profile website.
Look for the section of the page that talks about the privacy of use
“Badges” of trust
Trust badges are authentication tokens from third-party sources that confirm the legitimacy of your website. These badges are often found in the site’s footer, checkout, login, and homepage sections. When you click on the trust badge, it should redirect you to the issuer’s website, which in turn tells you that the website you visited meets trusted security standards. If it only opens as an image, that’s another red flag.
Use the security tools built into your internet browser
Most web browsers come with security features to keep you safe as a user, including built-in VPNs. These features can also help identify and alert you to potentially unsafe websites.
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