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by Dave Moore, 10-21-18

Most of us are usually able to mindlessly click our way around the Internet without considering the potential hazards behind every click. That’s a good thing; if every click on the Internet meant a virus would infect your computer, nobody would ever go there.

Odds are very high, though, that at some point in time, your computer will be infected by an Internet-borne virus. Minimizing your risk and knowing what to do should disaster strike will make you a victor in the battle for your little corner of the Internet, instead of becoming just another hapless victim.

Whereas most computer virus infections used to come from email attachments, attacks from virus-laden websites are becoming the norm. Most folks end up on infected websites by clicking on ads, clicking on links in emails (a practice to be avoided) or clicking on Internet search results.

How can you learn “safe clicking?” The first thing to do is read the address of a link before clicking. When you are on a website that has a link you would like to try, put your mouse pointer on top of the link, but don’t click. Then look at the bottom of your browser window. Notice how your browser will display the link’s hidden address in a long rectangular box at the bottom of the window. This is the first way to tell if a clickable link is legitimate or not.

For example, visit my website at davemoorecomputers.com. At the top you will see the word “Columns,” which is a link to all the columns I’ve written. Put your mouse pointer on top of those words and you will see the the link’s address, davemoorecomputers.com/columns displayed down at the bottom of your screen. This tells you that clicking on the link will indeed take you to a genuine page on my website. However, if the link’s address said something else, like www.xrdmnhack.ru (“.ru” indicates a Russian website), you would have good reason to be suspicious, even though the words your pointer was on claimed to be links to my newspaper columns. This link-displaying “look before you click” feature also works in many email programs, such as Outlook.

Another way of being warned about malicious websites is through some type of website filtering tool. These tools will give you a warning notice if you attempt to visit a dangerous site.

The Firefox browser has a website filtering tool built in, called “Phishing and Malware Protection.” To see if this feature is enabled, go to Tools/Options/Privacy & Security. All the boxes in the “Deceptive Content and Dangerous Software Protection” section should be checked. Then, if you try to visit a bad website, a scary-looking warning window will open up, giving you a chance to escape unharmed. Other browsers can have similar protections.

Another website filtering tool I like is called Web of Trust (www.mywot.com). The combination of Web of Trust and your browser’s built-in filtering is pretty effective. For more information, read my 6-14-09 column titled, “Who do you trust?” on my website.

None of these website filtering tools are perfect, however. Your most effective tool against website attacks is still common sense. A study by Symantec found that 44 percent of the search terms that led people to dangerous websites were for “adult” entertainment. The moral of the story? Stop searching for porn websites. Other dangerous activities include downloading bootleg songs and videos. If you find yourself trapped in a looping website attack, don’t click on anything. Instead, use the control-alt-delete method that I describe in my 3-7-10 column titled, “A scareware epidemic.”

On the other hand, many otherwise legitimate websites are dangerously infected, so, use your tools, use your brain and have fun practicing safe surfing.

Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. As founder of the Internet Safety Group, he also teaches Internet safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.internetsafetygroup.com