What Can I Do with Suspicious Links?
The Computer Corner
By Charles Miller
Last week in this space I recited my often-repeated advice to never, never, never, never, never, ever click on links in emails. Well, I am a realist, and I know many are going to go on clicking on those links in spite of all warnings. So, the question is, how can you safely click on links in emails? The answer to that question is unequivocal and very simple: There is no safe way to click on links in emails and no way to make it safe.
If you are in the majority of readers who are ignoring my advice and intend to go right on clicking on links in emails, is there anything you can do to at least reduce the risk somewhat? Thankfully, the answer to that is “yes.” This requires only a little vigilance on your part.
Trusting the sender of the email is not much good. You may receive an email from them today, and another tomorrow saying “Don’t open any emails from me, I’ve been hacked!”
The Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) is keeping count of hundreds of new email scams every day (123,972 unique phishing campaigns identified in six months). Visiting its website at antiphishing.org and memorizing all the scams every day is probably not the best approach.
A better habit is to hover your mouse over the link in the email without clicking. When you do, look on the screen for the link address (often at the bottom of your screen). If the link you are about to click on is from your bank, the address you might see could be “www.bank.com/offer” or “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.” Most scams make use of fake websites such as amaz0n.com (with a zero) and spelled out in capital letters AMAZ0N in order to fool you. Read the address carefully examining each and every letter. Be especially cautious of domain addresses that are all numeric such as 36482762.com because these are almost always fake. Do this before clicking on any link and you may recognize some as being scams.
I wish it could go without saying that you must never give out your credit card number or any personal information to these online crooks. I wish that were the case, but I get several calls every year from clients who were conned into giving out their personal information. Of course, if you click on that link in a malicious email the crooks might have already helped themselves to all the private information you have saved on your computer, so I would suggest you not keep a document titled “My Passwords and Bank Accounts.doc” on your computer.
You should keep your computer up-to-date with all the latest security patches and, you should also have anti-virus software installed. If you click on links, having antivirus software is almost zero protection for two reasons: One is that when you click on that link, your action effectively circumvents all your protective software. The other reason is that your software may not anti-virus recognize until next week the malware you are infecting yourself with this week. Still, being informed late is better than never.
And, please make sure you have a good backup routine together with a tested disaster recovery plan. You may need that backup one day if you choose to pursue the risky practice of clicking on links in emails.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.