How do I know if a link is legitimate?
Navigating the Internet can be tricky, and has become progressively more difficult over the past several years. Computers can be easily infected with malware, ransomware, or other nasty viruses at the click of a mouse -- clicking on the wrong link could you send you spiraling down a terrible rabbit hole.
So how do we know if the link is safe? There are several ways to tell if a URL is legitimate:
Tip #1 - Use a URL Checker
The easiest and most obvious tip is to run the link through a URL checker to make sure it isn't malicious. Be very careful with the link check you use, though. Even these URL checking websites can be infected with malware that, in turn, infects your computer. Before you click on one of these websites, make sure it is secure. If you do not see "https" and instead see "http" in front of the web address, it is best to avoid using that site.
Several reputable URL checkers:
Tip #2 - Use Your Browser's Safety Tools
Today's popular web browsers already include a slew of security features to help ensure your online safety. These tools can block pop-ups, send "Do Not Track" requests to websites, disable unsafe Flash content, stop malicious downloads, and control which sites can access your webcam/microphone.
Review your privacy settings by following the instructions below:
Firefox: Options > Privacy and Security
Safari: Preferences > Privacy
Chrome: Settings > Advanced > Privacy and Security
Make sure the necessary security tools are enabled so that you can avoid dangerous situations -- it is easy to accidentally click on a link that contains malware.
Tip #3 - Double Check URLs
You can perform your own safety test just by looking at the URL! You can make sure you know where the link is going to take you before you even click on it. Hover your mouse over any link to verify the URL it's really linked to. On Firefox and Chrome, you will be able to see the website address in the bottom lefthand corner. If you don't recognize the URL, type it into Google and see if anyone has reported it as "malicious."
Always make sure the URL is spelled correctly. Most people only glance over links before they clic them. For example, a hacker might send you a link to goog1e.com. Notice how the "1" is in the URL instead of an "L?" This is how hackers trick you into visiting their phishing sites. From the malicious website, they can steal your personal data.
Tip #4 - Check for HTTPS
You should always make sure that the websites you're visiting use HTTPS. HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the fundamental protocol for sending data between your browser and the websites you visit. HTTPS is the secure version of this data transfer (the "S" stands for "secure").
Hover over the padlock in your browser's navigation bar to make sure the website is secure. If you don't see it, the site your on isn't using a trusted SSL digital certificate, which can leave you vulnerable to having your information stolen. HOWEVER: some phishing websites could be using HTTPS to appear legitimate, so be wary. Key takeaway: if the website doesn't have a secured padlock in the navigation bar, don't enter any personal information (passwords, account numbers, etc.)
Remember: Think before you click!