Is This Website Safe? How to Check a Website’s Security: Part 1

Aug 22, 2019 | Privacy & Security

Although website owners should be responsible for the security of their website, there are still a lot of websites that aren’t secure.  An unsafe website can lead to malware, stolen information, spam and more. It is important to be cautious of potential threats that could put your personal information at risk online. 

How to Check if a Website is Safe

The following steps will help you determine whether the website you are accessing is safe:

1. Check for the ‘s’ in ‘https’

Before you enter any sensitive information online, be sure to check the URL for the ‘s’ in ‘https’. This is one of the most common ways that personal data is leaked or wrongfully accessed online. ‘Https’ indicates that the communications between your browser and the web site are encrypted. This security is provided in part by the web site’s TLS/SSL security certificate, which protects any personal information you enter online. It is important to make sure the TLS/SSL certificate is valid. Most browsers will warn you when a certificate is invalid. This isn’t the only protection a website should have to keep your information safe, but it is a good start.

2. Review the privacy policy 

Check that there is a privacy policy on the website before providing any personal information. Read the privacy policy to ensure that you understand how a site will use the data you provide. Many countries require a privacy policy by law. A privacy policy shows that the website owner cares about their user’s privacy and the security of their website. 

3. Find contact information 

If a website doesn’t have any contact information easily visible, do not trust this site. A safe website would clearly indicate a phone number, email address or physical address, if they have one.

4. Watch for signs of malware

Be cautious of sites that have a lot of pop-ups. Pop-ups with outlandish claims will entice you to click and could potentially cause you to download malware. Remember – if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Use a Safe Browser

A safe web browser can help to weed out unsafe sites by alerting you if a site isn’t secure or has a bad reputation. Consider using a browser such as Firefox or Brave. These browsers help protect against unwanted pop-ups, ads and tracking. Safe browsers have customizable security settings and plugins to keep your data from falling into the wrong hands. Browsers like the one in MySudo protect against browser fingerprinting by providing a compartmentalized browsing experience.

Use Search Engine Tools

Search engines like DuckDuckGo, Bing and Yahoo search have tools in place to help notify you and site owners when there is a security issue. Search engines not only return search data but also attempt to screen and inform the users about security and privacy threats. This includes invalid TLS/SSL certificates, malware detection, virus detection and privacy concerns.

Privacy-oriented search engines such as DuckDuckGo inform the users about the tracking popular sites have in place that could lead to privacy issues.

Beware of Sketchy Websites

Even if a site looks reliable according to the website security checklist above, there could be unsafe files on it. Beware of adult sites, file sharing and torrent sites, as these types of sites tend to have unsafe downloadable content which could lead to malware. Look out for signs that a website has been compromised, such as suspicious ads and pop-ups, automatic redirects, and signs of phishing. 

Keep Cookies in Check

While browsing the web it is good to keep track of what cookies are being stored on the browser that is being used. Cookies store data on the machine browsing the website and collect information like sessions after logging in to a website and tracking the browsing history. Web browsers such as Firefox include different security settings for cookies such as blocking 3rd-party tracking cookies and known tracking cookies to help keep your browsing private.

Consider Using a VPN

A VPN is a virtual encrypted tunnel for your communications to a server.  The traffic is routed through the server to the websites that are requested.  In a traditional sense a VPN is used to securely connect to a private network.  This can be leveraged in another way.  It can be used to route your traffic through a secure server.  It’s as if you were sitting at the server browsing the web.  This provides the ability to browse and use the Internet without disclosing your true IP address and location.  A VPN helps protect the information between you and the server.

As phishing scams are becoming more advanced, it is important to always be on the lookout for any suspicious activity online. Be extra cautious when providing your personal information to a website, and always think before you click.

Part 2 of this article will discuss the importance of why a site should be secure from the perspective of a website owner and also dive into how to secure your own website.  

By Nick Cloward and Mackenzie Kerr

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