“Just Google it.” You’ve probably heard this phrase a thousand times before, and for good reason—search is one of the top activities we do online1. Whether you use Google, Bing, Yahoo!, or another search engine, being able do a quick search on just about anything is one of the Internet’s greatest gifts. But while you are searching online for information and content, keep in mind that cybercriminals are searching for victims.
And, 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 designed to steal your money and personal information, or even annoying pop-up ads.
For example, a search for a major news event, such as the Summer Olympics in London, has turned up fake ticket and lottery scams, which ask for personal and financial information.
Even an innocent search for celebrity news can pose a threat to your Internet security. Consider this: McAfee named Emma Watson as the “Most Dangerous Celebrity of 2012” because clicking on links offering pictures or videos of the star resulted in a 12% chance of encountering spyware, phishing scams, or other malware.
Sometimes just clicking on the wrong website could land you in hot water if it 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.
McAfee Total Protection™
software, for example, can protect your computer from spyware, viruses and other malware you may encounter, and includes McAfee® SiteAdvisor® software, which tells you if a site is safe right in your search results.
If you search on a mobile device, consider getting software such as McAfee® Mobile Security that protects you from potential phishing sites, browser exploits, malicious links within text messages, email, social networking sites and QR codes. Aside from having comprehensive security software, it’s important to keep all your software up to date so it can shield you from the latest threats.
Finally, stay aware and stay educated. This will go a long way in helping you avoid risky websites, and ensure your Internet security.