The Difference Between Security and Legitimacy

Don’t Just Look for the Padlock

In the not-so-distant past, the padlock in the address bar was a signal that the website we were visiting was safe. If you saw that symbol in the web address bar, you felt comfortable providing your personal and financial information. Today, close to half of phishing sites display the padlock symbol. When PhishLabs, an anti-phishing company, surveyed a group of users, more than 80% believed the padlock indicated legitimacy or safety of a website. Hackers and scammers are using this feeling of safety associated with the padlock to prey on unsuspecting users. So what does the padlock really mean?

The padlock simply means that the data shared on the site is encrypted and cannot be read by third parties. But, what good is this protection if you’re sharing your personal and financial information directly with the scammer on a falsified website? The padlock guarantees privacy and secure communication, but NOT legitimacy.

Check the URL

Determining a website’s legitimacy takes a bit more research and critical thinking.

First, think twice about clicking a link from an unexpected email. The first step in a scammer’s plan is often an email with a link that directs you to an illegitimate site. If you do end up on a site via an email link, make sure you take a moment to examine the web address bar. You may see the padlock here, but instead pay attention to the actual address. If the website is meant to replicate a trusted brand’s site, the web address may be very similar to the legitimate site. Scammers can go as far as to use international characters so that the web addresses seem identical at first glance. For example: when visiting Target’s website, the web address bar looks like this:

target link

A scammer attempting to replicate the website may use this address:

target link2

These web addresses look almost the same, but will take you to two completely independent websites. Can you spot the difference? Do you think you would notice it if you weren’t looking closely?

The most important thing to do when navigating the internet is to stay alert. Know that scams abound and use your cyber knowledge to stay safe!

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