NORMAN — Like it or not, the Internet is a dangerous place. Scams abound and it’s often difficult to tell the bad guys from the good. Common sense can only carry you so far in making the all-important decision: Do I trust this website, or not?
It’s a bit like using the Yellow Pages to shop for a lawyer or dentist. All of the ads look good, but you have no way of knowing if the people behind the ads can really do a good job. It’s a real bummer learning that a lawyer or dentist is incompetent only after losing a lawsuit or having the wrong tooth removed. As such, we usually seek out the opinions of people that we trust to help us decide which lawyer or dentist to hire.
Trustworthy opinions about websites can be harder to come by. Sure, you can ask my opinion, but I can’t rate every website in the world. Sites like Amazon and Yahoo are generally safe, but I wouldn’t trust all of the ads that they display. Recently, one of my favorite weather websites, Intellicast, contained an ad linking to an Internet scam website called Google Money Master.
What’s needed is something like the Better Business Bureau for the Internet, but, sadly, the BBB lacks the personnel to review the approximately 200 million active websites in existence. Some services, such as McAfee SiteAdvisor, have tried to solve this problem, but have provided inconsistent and dubious results. One solution that actually works quite well, invented by two college students from Helsinki, Finland, is called Web of Trust.
Web of Trust (WOT) is a free security addon for your browser, and is designed to warn you before you interact with a risky website, keeping you safe from online scams, identity theft, spyware, spam, viruses and unreliable shopping sites. WOT is compatible with Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Apple Safari. Download and install WOT at www.mywot.com.
Web of Trust works by allowing WOT users to rate websites that they visit. Ratings are gathered in four areas: trustworthiness, vendor reliability, privacy and child safety. Users give ratings in each category from dark red (the worst rating) to dark green (the best rating. The ratings are then analyzed and compiled, and an overall rating is given to the website. When visiting a website, these ratings show up as a small symbol in the browsers toolbar. The ratings are also visible in other very useful places, such as Google search results and embedded email links. Millions of WOT users have rated millions of websites.
One example that I came across demonstrated very clearly just how useful a service Web of Trust can be; that example was the rip-off website FinallyFast.com.
Perhaps you remember the TV commercials for FinallyFast.com; I know that I have, as they have aired on most all major networks. They feature regular-looking computer users complaining about poor computer performance. The first red flag that I noticed, signaling that something wasn’t on the up-and-up, was the Apple Macintosh computer that was displaying a Windows “blue screen of death” error message. Perhaps that’s nitpicking, but the ad does flash a notice on the screen stating that the website “is for PC computers only.” The commercial goes on to encourage folks to visit FinallyFast.com and run a bunch of “free” PC repair tools, so that their computer can “run like new.” Joyful computer users (including one lady using a Mac) are shown exclaiming things like, “Dude! It’s finally fast! FinallyFast.com!”
If it’s true that “there’s a sucker born every minute,” then many a sucker has fallen for FinallyFast’s cleverly contrived con job. After paying for and installing the “activated” FinallyFast software (a requirement if true “repairs” are to be made), thousands of PC users have been horrified to learn that the software actually installs virus-like and spyware-like malicious programs. Stories of mysterious, recurring and hard-to-remove FinallyFast credit card charges abound.
However, if these same people had been using Web of Trust, they would have been greeted with a giant warning message when trying to visit the FinallyFast website. The same warning message appears when visiting FinallyFast’s related websites, FastAtLast.com and Ascentive.com, as well as other scam sites like MyFasterPC.com, SpeedUpMyComputer.net and PCPerformanceClinic.com. Many wasted dollars could have been saved and headaches avoided.
Is a sucker really born every minute? Maybe so, but they can keep themselves out of trouble by using Web of Trust. I recommend it; trust me.
Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.