How to Trust a Website in My Browser

By Kevin Lee

In an ideal world, Web criminals wouldn't try to steal your password, break into your bank account, confiscate your identify or infect your computer with malware. In the real world, these disturbing activities happen daily as people unwittingly visit malicious Web pages. Protect yourself, your finances and computer by learning to identify sites that can harm you.

Fake Websites Exist

It's not difficult for people with basic programming or design skills to create fake websites that look exactly like ones you often visit and trust. For example, a cybercriminal may duplicate a PayPal Web page, put it on the Web and wait for you to unwittingly enter your username and password. If you do that, the criminal can use that information to log in to your real PayPal account.

Identify Fake Websites

When you visit a site that requires you to enter confidential data, such as account or Social Security numbers, ensure that you are not at a fake website. A simple way to do this is to verify that the URL in your browser’s address bar is correct. Review the URL in your browser’s address bar and ensure that the URL is spelled correctly. Cybercriminals may register URLs that are almost identical to trusted URLs. For example, you might arrive at a site with a URL of http://www.bankoffamerica.com. Unless you notice the extra “f” in the URL, you may think you’re at the real Bank of America website.

Identify Secure Websites

Sites that handle sensitive data usually use Secure Socket Layers technology to encrypt communicate between Web browsers and Web servers. If you have an online bank, for instance, it probably uses SSL. If you are on a site that requires you to enter sensitive information, such as your credit card number, ensure that "https" appears at the beginning of the URL in your browser’s address bar. The "s" at the end of "http" verifies that you are communicating with the website over a secure connection. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome display padlocks in their address bars when they visit secure sites.

Get a Second Opinion

Free browsing tools, such as Web of Trust, can show you a site’s reputation before you visit it. WOT can be installed in all major browsers and displays icons that look like traffic lights next to links you encounter. If an icon is red, you know that people who’ve rated the site think it’s a bad site. A green icon means that they think a site’s OK. Some anti-malware companies also have similar tools that can warn you about websites. For example, you can install McAfee’s free SiteAdvisor or Norton's Identity Safe to browse the Web more securely.

Additional Web Safety Tips

Some fake Web pages may not look exactly like ones on sites you trust. Become familiar with how pages look at legitimate sites you visit and you may be able to spot counterfeit pages at fake websites you might encounter. For example, you might think that the logo on a fake Amazon Web page looks a little strange. Whenever you have any suspicions about a website, verify the URL to ensure you’re at a legitimate website. If you visit a secure site and your browser issues a warning, such as “certificate is invalid” or “certificate has expired,” the site could be unsafe. Your browser will ask you if you wish to visit the site anyway. If you know the site is safe, click the browser button that enables you to visit the site. If you aren’t sure, do not visit the site.

Add Trusted Sites to Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer 11 manages security by assigning all websites to one of four security zones. If you visit one or more sites that you'd like IE 11 to always trust, you can add them to the Trusted Site zone. You can do that by pressing “Windows-I” and clicking “Control Panel” to open the Control Panel. Click “Internet Options” followed by “Trusted Sites” and you can then click “Sites” to open the Trusted Sites window. Type the URL of a site you’d like to trust in the “Add This Website to the Zone” and then click “Add.” IE adds the site to the Websites box. Add additional sites as needed using this method. When you’re done, click “Close" followed by "OK" to save your changes.