Navigating the internet should be fun, not a source of danger and frustration. The online world is filled with great things, from free college courses and learning opportunities to cat videos and streaming TV shows. If you want to enjoy the best the Internet has to offer without exposing your personal data to malicious code and other dangers, you need to be cautious and know the warning signs to watch out for.
Knowing the signs of a malicious website is the best way to protect yourself, your data and your computer. If you spot any of these five warning signs, do yourself a favor and just click away.
#1. You Arrived There by Clicking a Link
This is the biggest warning sign of all, and the easiest one to avoid. Clicking a link in your email, especially when the sender is suspicious or unknown, is just asking for trouble.
Never click a link in your email, especially if it purports to come from your bank or credit card company. Fake banking sites are everywhere, and these days they often look just like the real thing. Typing the address in by hand takes only a couple of minutes, and it could save you a world of trouble.
#2. The Address Doesn’t Look Quite Right
If you do neglect the best advice and click that link in your email, take a good look at the address bar. Then take a second, and a third, look to make sure everything looks like it should.
If you bank online regularly, you should be able to notice when something does not look quite right. Pay attention to your gut, use your common sense and intuition close the tab if the address bar shows something suspicious. If you are used to seeing bankname.com in the address bar, you should run if you see something like bankname.bk or bank-name.com.
#3. A Lack of Encryption on a Site That Needs It
If you are shopping online or doing some banking, you expect the site to have strong encryption. A site that lacks encryption but clearly needs it is a common sign of malicious content, and a good reason to click away immediately.
Start by looking at the address bar: you should see the familiar “https:” that signifies an encrypted site, not the “http:” that shows a less secure location. If the site is truly encrypted, you should also see a key or other indication on your browser.
#4. Poor Quality and Presentation
Poor grammar, frequent misspellings and poor word choices are all dead giveaways of a malicious site. Always take a few minutes to peruse the site and gauge the quality of its content. If it is a professional site, there should not be any obvious misspellings or grammatical errors.
The owners of malicious websites often clone other sites or rely on free software to create their sites, so be wary of generic sites that look like they were thrown together quickly. Legitimate businesses work hard to make their sites unique, and they rarely rely on free tools to build those sites.
#5. Pop-Ups and Other Annoyances
Be wary of any site that is riddled with pop-up ads and other annoyances. Does the site immediately ask you to download software? Do the site owners want you to take a survey? Are you asked to sign up for a newsletter or provide your email address? If so, it is time to click off and run the other way.
If you do encounter what you believe to be a malicious website, you should immediately run a full virus and malware scan on your computer. Even if your system is set to scan everyday, it never hurts to run an additional manual scan just to be sure. Malware and malicious websites are all too common these days, and you can never be too careful.