As you search, and surf online; from time to time you may well come across a warning from your browser like the one you see below saying the site contains malware or perhaps that the connection is untrusted. A recent study from UC Berkeley and Google, called Alice in Warningland, indicates that many of us choose to ignore these warnings on a daily basis. So if you do encounter these warnings what should you do? What do they mean? Let me guide you quickly through these and give some solid advice for staying safe online.
The Website Ahead Contains Malware (Chrome); Reported Attack Page (Firefox)
Response: STOP! Do Not Proceed!
What this means: The site or individual page has been infected with Malware. Malware is malicious software that can do a variety of things most of them bad so you definitely want to steer clear of an infected site. Malware can take over a page’s advertising functions to show rogue ads, it can upload viruses, trojan horses, worms and even keystroke loggers (to capture your user name and passwords) to your computer. Ignoring the browser warning and clicking through to the page may make your computer vulnerable. Even with the reassurance offered by anti-virus software, such as Norton, you really don’t want to take such an unnecessary risk..
This Connection is Untrusted (Firefox); This is Probably Not The Site You Are Looking For (Chrome)
Response: Is this a site you are entering information into? (e.g. passwords, webmails, payment info, social networking etc.)? If so Do Not Proceed!
What this means: The SSL connection for the site is down either because of a service failure, perhaps the SSL certificate has expired, or it was revoked (which means you are potentially on a bad site). SSL is the encryption protocol used on websites to secure the transfer of data. It helps you to stay safe online by ensuring that no one can see your data when you send it over the internet. [Learning about what SSL does is a key part of staying safe online so, later in the post, I will give you a short lesson so you can figure out if a webpage has SSL within 10 seconds or less.]
A Short Lesson on SSL
Pay attention; there is a short test afterwards to help you hone your new skills.
Take a look at the address bar for this blog entry. There are up to four things to look for. The first is the address begins with “https.” The “s” is for “secure.” You can see an https connection if the site you are visiting has an SSL certificate from a Certificate Authority like Symantec. Secondly, look for the padlock. It should either be to the left or right on the address bar. A third thing you may notice is that the address bar is green or has green lettering. Green address bars are the result of using an Extended Validation SSL certificate which means the website owner went through an extensive vetting process to before the certificate was issued all to ensure that you feel safer on their site. Fourthly, look for a security seal when you are on pages that require the transferring of information, namely payment information. Anyone can make their own fake seal or post an image of a real one so take a look for the padlock and “https” to know if it’s real (you can click on it too). The Norton Secured Seal is the internet’s most trusted seal.
People who would like more information can click on the padlock. This gives you all the details about which company issues the certificate and when it expires. Security people like myself read this but you don’t have to… just like how you don’t have to know how to chop vegetables to eat a salad.
Test Time; click the examples below and look for the first three things I mentioned above.
Which examples have SSL and which do not? Answer the following three questions with a bonus question for being thrown into the deep end. Scroll way down for the answers
- Does example 1 have SSL? Yes or No
- Does example 2 have SSL? Yes or No
- Of the four things listed above to look for how many does example 3 have? 1, 2, 3, or 4?
- Bonus: You don’t need to speak a foreign language to see if you are secure or not. Check out this Japanese political party’s page and answer this bonus question. Is this the real website of this political party or possible spoof site? Real or Fake
- No, since you are only viewing pictures of LOLcats it may not be needed.
- Yes, anyone potentially eavesdropping on your search for LOLcats will only see a garbled set of data that is nearly impossible to hack.
- 4; It has “https”, the lock, green address bar, and did you notice the small security seals on the bottom right hand corner? Click the yellow circle with the check mark; it’s from Symantec. It will lead you to the Norton Secured Seal check page. I recommend reading it if you have 3 minutes to spare.
- Real, since the website operator wants to display to constituents that this is the real site they went through Extended Validation authentication to get the green bar from Symantec (Formerly known as VeriSign).