NORMAN — Most of us are usually able to mindlessly click our way around the Internet without considering the potential hazards behind every click. That’s a good thing; if every click on the Internet meant a virus would infect your computer, nobody would ever go there.
Odds are very high, though, that at some point in time, your computer will be infected by an Internet-borne virus. Minimizing your risk and knowing what to do should disaster strike will make you a victor in the battle for your little corner of the Internet, instead of becoming just another hapless victim.
Whereas most computer virus infections used to come from email attachments, attacks from virus-laden websites are becoming the norm. Most folks end up on infected websites by clicking on links in emails (a practice to be avoided) or clicking on Internet search results.
How can you learn “safe clicking?” The first thing to do is read the address of a link before clicking. When you are on a website that has a link you would like to try, put your mouse pointer on top of the link, but don’t click.
Then look at the bottom of your browser window. Notice how your browser will display the link’s hidden address in a long rectangular box at the bottom of the window. This is the first way to tell if a clickable link is legitimate or not.
For example, visit my website at davemoorecomputers.com. Scroll down a bit and you will see a graphic that links to EFF, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Put your mouse pointer on top of the EFF logo and you will see the link’s address, eff.org, displayed down at the bottom of your screen. This tells you that clicking on the link will indeed take you to eff.org, which is EFF’s website.
However, if the link’s address says something else, like xrdmnhack.ru (“.ru” indicates a Russian website), you have good reason to be suspicious. This link-displaying “look before you click” feature also works in many email programs, such as Outlook.
Another way of being warned about malicious websites is through some type of website filtering tool. These tools will give you a warning notice if you attempt to visit a dangerous site.
The Firefox browser has a website filtering tool built in, being based on security scans done by Google. To see if this feature is enabled, go to Tools/Options/Security. There should be a check mark in the box that says “Block reported attack sites” and “Block reported Web forgeries.” If you try to visit a bad website, a maroon-colored warning window will open up saying, “Reported attack site.” Click on the “Get me out of here” button and you’ll be safe.
Internet Explorer has a similar, but less trustworthy tool, based on website scans done by Microsoft; all the more reason to ditch Internet Explorer in favor of Firefox.
Another website filtering tool I recommend adding to your browser is called Web of Trust (mywot.com). The combination of Web of Trust and your browser’s built-in filtering is pretty effective. For more information, read my 6-14-09 column titled “Who do you trust?” on my website.
However, none of these website filtering tools are perfect. Your most effective tool against website attacks is still common sense. A recent study by Symantec shows that 44 percent of the search terms that led people to dangerous websites were for “adult” entertainment. The moral of the story? Stop searching for porn websites.
Other dangerous activities include downloading bootleg songs and videos. If you find yourself trapped in a looping website attack, don’t click on anything. Instead, use the control-alt-delete method that I describe in my 3-7-10 column titled “A scareware epidemic.”
On the other hand, many otherwise legitimate websites are dangerously infected, so, use your tools, use your brain and have fun practicing safe surfing.
Dave Moore, of Norman, has been an independent computer service technician since 1984. He also teaches computer security workshops to public and private organizations. He can be reached at 919-9901 or davemoorecomputers.com.