The Internet can be a bad place, and not all websites are safe. Things may not always be what they seem, and it is, therefore, imperative that you take some basic precautions before you click on any hyperlink or URL. This beginner’s guide talks of the basic precautions one should take before clicking on web links, URLs or hyperlinks.
Precautions to take before clicking on web links
If you have noticed, when you are reading a web page, you will often see links as, for instance – TheWindowsClub or simply as www.thewindowsclub.com. Most of you may click on such links without a second thought. In either of these two cases, you will be taken to the genuine URL or website which is https://www.thewindowsclub.com.
But you need to be careful as the displayed text or the hyperlink can be misleading. To give you an example, if you were to click on TheWindowsClub.com now, you could be taken to another link – in this case our own sub-domain. Or you could click on a different displayed link text like say Windows 10 and still be taken to www.thewindowsclub.com. Then again, you may see news.thewindowsclub.com but be taken to www.thewindowsclub.com.
The point that I am trying to make is that don’t take things at face value.
So to confirm that a link is safe or not, what you need to do, is move your mouse pointer and hover it over the link.
In the bottom left corner of your browser, you will be able to see where you are actually going to be taken. If you see, the domain is genuine, you can click the hyperlink.
So far so good.
But you need to do more. Having clicked the link, you need to keep an eye on your browser’s address bar, and the address displayed.
The danger here is that from a seemingly safe domain name, you could well be re-directed to another domain which may an unsafe or a Phishing domain.
If the address continues to remain the same, good. But if it suddenly changes to another domain, you will have to be alert. Ensure that the new address belongs to a genuine website before you proceed.
Fine, but if it is an unfamiliar domain, how do you know if it is safe?
Install one of these URL Scanner add-ons on your browser.
When you visit a link, these URL scanners will check if the website you ar visiting is safe and will warn you if it is unsafe. Windows 10 users have the additional safety of the SmartScreen, which is already enabled by default. If you are using a good Internet Security Suite, it too will block malicious links from opening. Most good browsers like Chrome, IE, Edge, Firefox, etc., too will stop malicious links from opening.
The same precautions need to be taken when clicking on links in your email. If you are using a desktop email client, like say Outlook, it too will display the link in the bottom left corner. If in doubt, you can right-click on the link and select Copy URL and paste it in Notepad to see it.
Here are some types of links, you don’t want to click on:
- Phony links that might show something else but will actually direct to a different location. Phishing emails use various methods to hide the actual URLs.
- The link that is displayed will be an image while the actual link could be different.
- Actual links can be masked using HTML. Thus, the text displayed will be http://websitename.com/ while the hyperlink set will be http://www.othersite.com.
- Another method is by using @ in the link. If a link contains the ‘@’ sign, the URL you’re taken to will be the one after the ‘@’ sign. For example, if the link is www.microsoft.com/[email protected]/?=true, the actual URL you will be taken to is web.com?=true.
- Links with numbers instead of the website name. Example: www.220.127.116.11.com.
One last point!
These days you must have seen a lot of shortened URLs that appear as http://bit.ly/1UTZzTI. These are our usual long URLs which have been shortened using a URL Shortener service. While short URL generators help you share long links over your social network accounts quickly, they pose one grave danger – they may hide suspicious elements like malware.
A URL Expander is a tool that expands shortened URLs to their original long URL and finds if it carries malware along the way. If you feel unsure as to where a shortened link will take you, you can make use of some URL expander service to see the full URL.
Click links suspiciously and stay safe online!