Use the Internet Safely

It is very easy to clone a real website and does not take a skilled developer long to produce a very professional-looking, but malicious site.

Being wary of malicious, criminal or inappropriate websites:

  • Use your instincts and common sense. 

  • Check for presence of an address, phone number and/or email contact – often indications that the website is genuine. If in doubt, send an email or call to establish authenticity.

  • Check that the website’s address seems to be genuine by looking for misspellings, extra words, characters or numbers or a completely different name from that you would expect the business to have.

  • Roll your mouse pointer over a link to reveal its true destination, displayed in the bottom left corner of your browser. Beware if this is different from what is displayed in the text of the link from either another website or an email.

  • If there is NO padlock in the browser window or ‘https://’ at the beginning of the web address to signify that it is using a secure link, do not enter personal information on the site. 

  • Websites which request more personal information than you would normally expect to give, such as user name, password or other security details IN FULL, are probably malicious.

  • Avoid ‘pharming’ by checking the address in your browser's address bar after you arrive at a website to make sure it matches the address you typed. This will avoid ending up at a fake site even though you entered the address for the authentic one – for example ‘eebay’ instead of ‘ebay.

  • Always get professional advice before making investment decisions. Sites that hype investments for fast or high return – whether in shares or alleged rarities like old wine, whisky or property – are often fraudulent.

  • Be wary of websites which promote schemes that involve the recruitment of others, receiving money for other people or advance payments.

  • If you are suspicious of a website, carry out a web search to see if you can find out whether or not it is fraudulent.

  • Be wary of websites that are advertised in unsolicited emails from strangers.

Allowing Cookies From Everywhere

You’ve probably heard about cookies before, but maybe you don’t understand exactly what they are or why they’re so important. You can get by without knowing much about them, but if you want to best maintain your privacy while browsing the web, learn what cookies are.

In short, cookies are files created on your computer when you visit a website. These files are meant to store information that must be available from session to session — such as login data — and aren’t inherently harmful. However, they can be used in harmful ways like tracking your web behavior.

What we recommend doing is to allow first-party cookies (which are cookies set by the actual site domain that you’re visiting) and disallow third-party cookies (which are cookies set by other domains, like advertising networks).

Note: Some sites might need third-party cookies to operate properly. For example, online banking sometimes require these cookies for user verification.

Cluttering Up Space With Tabs

“Open now, read it later.” That’s been my web browsing motto for several years now. Whenever I come across interesting links, I open them all as new tabs. You can imagine how they pile up over time, filling up the browser with dozens of tabs that can impact performance.

The easiest thing to do is use tab groups. The tab group is a minimalist approach to tab overload on Firefox, allowing you to categorize tabs according to topic and only have tabs of a particular group open at any given time. Chrome users can emulate this behavior with the Tab Bundler extension.

Or you could always store it for later. Check out this list of web tools that make it easy to clip pages and websites that you can return to later, eliminating the need to keep tabs open until you get around to reading said tabs.

Relying on Too Many Plugins

Despite all of the add-ons and extensions I’ve just recommended, keep in mind that you should actively avoid installing too many plugins on your browser. That goes for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, and even Internet Explorer. Plugins will slow you down.

It’s a tough line to walk, however, because plugins are so darn useful. You’re probably using some form of ad-block, right? Reddit fans can’t live without Reddit Enhancement Suite. And that’s not to mention all of the security and privacy plugins that are available.

Overlooking JavaScript’s Risks

These days it’s almost impossible to find a modern website on the web that doesn’t use JavaScript in some way. It’s necessary for things like visitor analytics, nifty visual effects, infinite scrolling, and updating page elements without refreshing the entire page itself.

For the most part, JavaScript is good! But JavaScript is also powerful, and that power can easily be misused and abused when wielded by the wrong hands.

We recommend you explore the dangers of JavaScript and what could happen to your computer if you came across a malicious or overly ambitious chunk of code. It’s a threat to both security and privacy, which is why you need to know what JavaScript is capable of and how to keep it at bay.

Disregarding Browser Updates

You know the notice that pops up every once in a while asking if you’d like to update your browser to the next version? Chrome users probably don’t know what I’m talking about (Google handles it automatically in the background), but for the rest of us, that little notice is important.

Browser updates exist for two reasons: 1) to add new features and 2) to fix flaws in previous versions. Big features are normally added in major version updates, so most of the time these browser updates are minor tweaks and changes that can be applied in just a few seconds.

What kind of changes? Patching security vulnerabilities, for one. Another common example is improving on issues of user experience, such as memory leaks and performance bottlenecks.

Unless you have a good and purposeful reason for sticking with an older version — e.g. it’s the last version before a critical feature was removed — it’s always best to stick with the latest version of your browser.

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