Is This Website Safe? The A-Z to Safer Browsing

Mary Gevorgyan
M. Gevorgyan|09.29.16

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Mary Gevorgyan
September 29th, 2016
Is This Website Safe? The A-Z to Safer Browsing

If you think it's the world around us that is dangerous, you've probably been extremely lucky in the global net. The Internet is the easiest "place" to get people trapped and to set up websites that corrupt personal information, the users' computers and cause lots and lots of other damage.

When you use the web, there are lots of websites that belong to the "ol' good" category- you have been using them for ages and you seem to know them inside out. You type just one letter in the search box and the website is suggested to you- so there we go. In these cases you are probably safe. But what about websites you are going to access for the first time? What about the dozens of links that end up in your mailbox? And what about that cute video your friend shared on Twitter? There are billions of sources online, and knowing how to single out the ones that are potentially dangerous may be a good favor to yourself.

Ask yourself the important "Is this website safe?" question before you jump to using it. Whether you use Windows, or Linux, Mac, Android or iOS, there's a strong chance that somebody (or, actually, a whole army of fraudsters) are waiting in all-armed mode to get at your personal information. Data means money, and you're nothing more than a dollar sign to the bad guys.

So, if "is this website safe" is an actual question for you, let's look at just a couple of ways of building a fence around fraudsters and browsing smart, starting with the basics.

1. Check verification status
Start by checking the address bar to see whether the site is verified. The largest browsers like Chrome and Firefox have a sign in the left corner of the search bar to indicate whether the website is safe or not. Most large, safe sites will be verified, and therefore the address bar will display either a location or a safety ranking:

Looking to left side of the location bar you will be able to see a sign indicating that the site has been verified as legitimate. Clicking on the green sign will display a bar with some details on the website. Note that in case the website is not verified, you will see a different sign.
2. HTTPS vs HTTP
Checking for HTTPS instead of the less-secure HTTP in the address bar may save you from lots of trouble. Although HTTPS isn't foolproof, it is still indicative of more reliable web resources.

3. Use Google Safe Browsing
Check the website with Google Safe Browsing. To do so, simply type https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/safebrowsing/diagnostic/#url= followed by the name of the site under question. This simple query will let you know if the website has hosted malware in the past 3 months.

4. Use a reliable antivirus
Many websites will start throwing malware at you before you even manage to look at the address bar. For instances of websites flooded with malware and adware, use an antivirus. If the moment you hit "Enter" there comes in a security report, then the website safety question becomes, well, kind of rhetoric. You may try AVG or another reliable antivirus to avoid scammy websites and ones full of PUPs and viruses.

5. Refer to the wisdom of the crowd
The good news for any website visitor is that, quite probably, you are not the first person asking the "Is this website safe?" question. There are billions of connected Internet users and many of them will review popular (and not so popular) websites, giving you a hint on whether you should be browsing through them.
The Internet is rich with specific reputable communities that share information on lots of websites. One quite old and reputable resource from this perspective is mywot.com or the Web of Trust community (WOT). How do you check whether a website is safe? First, visit the website and type in the website URL in the search box. The results will indicate website safety scores marked as "Trustworthiness" and "Child safety", based on a hundred per cent scale. If we look at the example of a website, say, Ted.com, we will see the following picture in Web of Trust:

This indicates that 95% of all users find this website trustworthy and reliable, and 94% consider it safe for children. These are rather high scores, so we can conclude the website doesn't hold any potential danger.
If the website were dangerous, we would have a lower score that would mean you had to beware. See this example on WOT:
However, make sure you don't restrict your search to looking at the reputation scores only. Right below the scores, you can find a large pool of user reviews and make sure you know all the potential threats.

6. Check for redirects
This is not a rare thing: you start browsing through a website and everything seems to be just fine. A couple of minutes later you end up browsing through quite a different web resource. How did that happen? Simple! You got redirected. If the website redirects you to another resource, beware. And of course, stop right there if you were about to make a payment unless you were redirected to PayPal!

7. Some additional activities:
a. Check the website information on WHOIS to make sure it's legit.
b. Look for the website's terms and conditions and find the part that deals with use of personal data.
c. Google a bit more

Drawing some Conclusions

Asking is this website safe before visiting a web resource is a very good idea. In the end, you are saving yourself from potential danger. Though this is not a restrictive list and there are many more things you can do to check for website safety, these steps are enough to guide you safely through potential danger spread out there on the web. Make sure you follow these steps and it will be much harder for fraudsters to have you trapped!
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