It’s not always safe when you’re online. For the most part, if you have any up to date virus checker and a good firewall in place, you’ll be protected from people trying to get into your computer. There actually is a safer way but that means being disconnected from the internet altogether and that’s just not fun at all.
We’ve even become pretty good in realizing that there’s nobody who has hired a lawyer with minimal English skills who has a business proposition for you or an inheritance that’s just waiting for you to claim.
But, the attackers continue to work on ways to entice you to make a slip and put your computer and/or your personal information at risk. Over the past while, there have been a couple that we should all be aware of. They come to us via two of the most popular social networking tools – Facebook and Twitter.
Somewhere along the line, you’re enticed to click a link to get some sort of reward. In the case of Facebook, one of the most recent ones involved the text “OMG – is that you in this video” or something. Of course, you want to protect your reputation and see what the video is about. Those that would do bad things to your computer are looking for you to do that and they’re waiting on the other end.
Now, they’re not going to do something stupid like sending you to the website “Iamgoingtoattackyou.com”. Instead, they will hide the actual URL using any of the URL Shorteners that are available on the web. You’re seen them; they’re very commonly used in a world where short is better. Things like bit.ly or goo.gl are shorteners that take a long internet address and make it a short one. I’ve put together a short list of trusted URL shorteners here on my PD Wiki. There’s also a page there about how to create your own.
So, what’s a person to do. There are some common sense tips to help out.
Check who sent you the original message. Is that really an acquaintance that’s doing something in your best interest?
Is there a way to check the URL before you click it? In my case, I use Seesmic Desktop with Twitter. I have installed an extension that lets me view the real URL of one that’s shortened. That’s really handy so that I can preview before launching a link.
If you’re using the web version of Twitter, just pause a second and hover over the URL and let Twitter reveal where you’re really headed if you click the link.
Is there something funky about the name of the sender, or their avatar (like they have the default Twitter bird) that sends up a signal to you? If there is, just take a pass on the link. There are lots of safer ones!
Speaking of red flags, if you’re at the level of paranoia where you’d like to take all reasonable steps for safety, consider installing an add-on/extension like Web of Trust. On the web, you’ll see little red, yellow, and green icons next to URLs. Web of Trust pulls in information from the masses about the safety of links for you. The first few days of use can be uncomfortable as every link on a page is evaluated but you may find that every little bit of information helps.
Fortunately, most of the activity that you’ll run in to is good stuff. You’ve chosen your friends wisely, right? But, it doesn’t hurt to have a tool or two to use along with some common sense to keep yourself safe.