We all use Google, quickly finding everything we need on the Internet. It’s replaced dictionaries, encyclopedias, instruction manuals, newspapers and in many cases, even doctors (not such a good thing!).
However, sometimes your search results aren’t the real thing and can be downright malicious. For example, we regularly find that customers search for, say, a printer driver software update and they type in something like “XP442 printer driver” . A close look at some of the results shows things like ‘ epsondrivers.org ‘ or ‘ printerdriversforyou.com ‘ – not the manufacturers official website – so you may get a driver but you are very likely to get something unwanted too!
Here’s how to search more safely: –
Pay attention to the URL in Google
Below every result title there’s a URL (website address) in green. No matter what the title says, this URL is where your mouse click will take you. Unfortunately, cyber-criminals will often list their site with a familiar and trusted title but link you to their scam/malware pages.
Another example can be the title of your bank name (eg, Example Bank), which seems legitimate, but the URL could be www.baabpjhg.com which is obviously not your bank. Sometimes they’ll attempt to trick you by putting the real site into the link too, eg www.baabpjhg.com/examplebank.com which makes it even more likely to catch you out when skimming through results quickly. When you visit the page, it might look exactly like your bank’s site and ask for your login details, which are then harvested for attack.
Whilst jibberish in the link is pretty easy to spot, sometimes they’ll take advantage of a small typo that you can easily miss. For example, www.exampebank.com (missing the letter L).
Notice Google search results v paid adverts
Google does a pretty good job at making sure the most relevant and legitimate sites are at the top of the list, however paid adverts will usually appear above them. Much of the time, these paid ads are also legitimate (and you can quickly check the URL to verify), but occasionally cybercriminals are able to promote their malicious site to the top and catch thousands of victims before being removed.
Similarly, well known businesses can pay for adverts, even though much of their software is classed as ‘Potentially Unwanted Programs’ and technicians remove them from computers every day.
Believe Google’s malicious site alerts
Sometimes Google knows when something is wrong with a website. It could be a legitimate site that was recently hacked, a security setting that’s malfunctioned, or the site was reported to them as compromised.
When this happens, Google stops you clicking through with a message saying “this website may be harmful” or “this site may harm your computer”. Stop immediately, and trust that Google has detected something you don’t want in your house.
Turn on Safe Search
You can filter out explicit search results by turning on Google Safe Search. Whilst not strictly a cyber-security issue, it can still provide a safer Google experience. Safe Search is normally suggested as a way to protect browsing children, but it also helps adults who aren’t interested in having their search results cluttered with inappropriate links, many of which lead to high-risk sites.
Switch Safe Search on/off by clicking Settings > Search Settings > Safe Search.
These are just a few tips to make your searching safer, but the most important is you – never take your internet security for granted and always be cautious when using any search engine, as they can only display what they find out there on the internet – good and bad.
Need some help securing your system? Give us a call on 01455 209505.