Whether we are curious about the latest blockbuster movies, breaking news events, or celebrity gossip, search engines are usually the first place we go to seek answers.
A quick query on your favorite search engine can turn up thousands of results, many of which are useful, but some can be downright dangerous. This is because cybercriminals are constantly trying to trick us into clicking on risky links and downloads, or revealing our personal and financial information.
The more popular the search, whether it’s for breaking news, celebrity gossip, or must-have free content, the more likely you are to run into dangerous results. The cybercriminals know that if they use popular search terms, they are more likely to lure users into clicking on phony pages that contain malware, phishing scams, or annoying pop-up ads.
For instance, this summer Internet users hungry for news on England's newest heir, Prince George, ran the risk of landing on numerous risky websites offering videos of the birth, first pictures, and other tantalizing bits of news all designed to get royal watchers to click where they shouldn’t.
Even an innocent search for celebrity news can pose a threat to your Internet security. You may be surprised to learn that McAfee named Lily Collins as the “Most Dangerous Celebrity of 2013” because clicking on links offering pictures or videos of the star resulted in a 14.5% chance of encountering spyware, phishing scams, or other malware.
On some risky websites, just one click can land you in hot water if the site contains a so-called “drive-by download” that can automatically install malicious files onto your computer. Your computer could become infected with spyware that steals your personal information, or a virus that keeps your computer or device from functioning properly.
Given these threats, it’s important that you learn to search safely. Here are some tips to keep your information safe and improve your Internet security:
- Be suspicious—If a search turns up links to free content, such as videos, music, and ringtones, or too-good-to-be-true offers, be wary. Also be suspicious of sites with misspellings and low-resolution images since these are common signs that a site may have been quickly put together by a cybercriminal to deliver malware or trick you into revealing sensitive information.
Finally, be very wary of shortened links since you cannot view the full web address to see if it appears legitimate or not. Our best advice is to use a shortened link preview tool, such as LongURL, which allows you to see the full address before you click on it.
- Always double-check the web address—Look for misspellings or other clues that the link might be directed to a phony website. For example, if you are searching for Amazon.com and get a result for “Amazzon.cn”, you should know not to click. It’s even more important to double-check web addresses on your mobile device since it’s easy to miss clues on a small screen.
- Be cautious when searching for banking sites—If you are on your computer, type your bank’s web address directly into the address bar rather than searching for the site, since you could land on a copycat site. If you are using your mobile phone, download your bank’s official mobile app so you know that you’re going to the right destination every time.
- Use security software and keep it up-to-date—Comprehensive security software that has a safe search component can go a long way in improving your Internet security.
Finally, stay aware and stay educated. This will go a long way in helping you avoid risky websites, and ensure your Internet security. To learn more about this year’s most dangerous celebrity, click here.