You can put a lot of time and effort into setting up a secure Wi-Fi network, but all that hard work can go up in smoke if you access an unsafe website that infects your device with a virus or steals your personal information. Whether you’re doing online research or scratching that online shopping itch, you don’t want one visit to a bad website to inflict damage that could take months to resolve. Fortunately, you can learn how to tell a safe website from a risky one.
How to Be Safe Online: What Makes a Website Safe?
All it takes is one click on a fishy link and you could be phished. No matter what operating system you use, your phone, tablet, or computer can be compromised by emails, texts, and even Facebook messages that include links designed to access your personal information. But you don’t have to stand by helplessly, fearing every link that shows up in your inbox. Use these tactics to determine bogus websites from safe ones.
1. Be a Smart Browser
Always check the URL of any site that you log into. Look for HTTPS at the beginning of the address (the “s” on the end stands for secure), but this isn’t foolproof. You can use an online tool like Google Safe Browsing to verify that any link is legit before you click it.
2. Be a Safe Online Shopper
Few personal tidbits are more worrisome to send out over cyberspace than financial information. Before you type in your credit card number, look for a closed padlock or key in the top left of your browser. If you click on the key or padlock, you should see a message that the connection is secure and data submitted will be kept private. If you don’t see a padlock or key, don’t enter your credit card info.
3. Make Sure the Site Is Certified
An SSL certificate is what allows a site to have the extra “s” at the beginning of their URL that indicates the site is secure. However, there is more than one level of SSL certification. At a minimum, a website can receive Domain Validation (DV), which means the ownership of the site has been verified. If you’re inputting personal data on a webpage, you want the highest level, Extended Validation (EV). This means the company has proven its legitimacy as a business, which will be indicated by the lock icon noted above.
4. Follow Your Gut
Sometimes the best way to stay safe online is to trust your instincts. If something feels off about the URL or the company, take the time to investigate before proceeding. One way to check if a website is safe (and find out if your gut is reliable) is by verifying the company’s contact information—there should be a current email address, phone number, and physical address. If you have concerns, call the company before proceeding online.
Staying safe online takes diligence, but the extra effort to validate a site’s legitimacy can save you untold worry, stress, and dollars down the line.
Written by Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more