How to Search Safely When Using Google

Remember the old days of dictionaries, encyclopedias, and newspapers? We would have never imagined that one day we would be able to sit in front of a screen, type in a question, and get thousands of answers in mere seconds.

We all love being able to find what we are looking for fast, but unfortunately sometimes the results that we search for may not be legit and contain malicious links and malware.

Follow these tips to search safely:

Double check the URL

No matter what the website title says, the URL is where your 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.

For example, you could be searching for your credit card company, Capitol One.

The title says Capitol One, but the URL could be where scammers have changed the name by one pesky letter (missing the letter “o”) to make you think you recognize the link. When you visit the page, it might look exactly like your credit cards site and ask for your login details, which are then harvested for attack.

Search results vs paid ads

Google’s algorithm does a good job at making sure the most legitimate and relevant sites are what show up at the top of the results. However it’s important to keep in mind that paid ads will usually appear above them. These paid ads are most likely legitimate (and you can quickly check the URL to verify), but sometimes cybercriminals are able to promote their malicious site to the top and catch thousands of victims before being removed by the search engine.

Believe Google’s malicious site alerts

Sometimes Google can catch when something is fishy about a site. It could have started out as a legitimate site and then was recently hacked, or maybe the site was reported to Google as compromised. When this happens, Google posts a message saying “this website may be harmful” or “this site may harm your computer”. If you receive this message, trust that Google has detected something dangerous and do not click further.

Switch on Safe Search

Google’s Safe Search feature allows you to filter out explicit results by simply turning the feature on. It may not strictly be a cyber-security feature, but it can still provide a safer Google experience. Safe Search is usually suggested as a way to protect young children who are browsing, but it can also help anyone who isn’t interested in having their results cluttered with inappropriate links, many of which lead to malicious sites. Turn on or turn off Safe Search by going to your Google Settings.

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