How to spot dangerous websites

Written by Staff Writer

London (CNN) — There’s no foolproof way to avoid being targeted by cyber stalkers and to spot potential “power users” and malicious sites, experts warn.

With this in mind, cyber security provider Norton is working with online behaviour expert Anita Novoselsky-Gibbs to offer advice on how to identify potentially dangerous sites and stay safe online.

To tackle the problem, Novoselsky-Gibbs worked with cyber security company Norton to explore the key behavior in which “power users” attack sites. She said that many make the mistake of deciding to “monitor” sites.

“It is very common to ‘monitor’ websites and write posts/queries about a given topic, as a way of knowing which sites are good/bad,” she said.

“One simple example is to review a website within a browser that has a “track feature” and to follow its highly automated processes of downloading, page loading, reloading and displaying a ‘trackmarker.’

“This occurs when a site is unique to you, which generally means that it has been designed by someone who will be able to identify you and your browsing activity.”

The findings show that suspicious behavior can be discovered by inspecting the features of a website, or following its instructions that are structured to lead users to certain information.

Beware of key-loggers

While individual users can add value to sites by checking each page for errors, Novoselsky-Gibbs warns that some websites, including online advertisers, can watch individual browsing behavior to ascertain individual users’ personal information and then target them with advertising.

The key problem is that these feature may not always be given proper warning, or never been implemented.

“It is very hard to protect your online activities without protecting your browsing,” she said.

“My advice is always to switch off tracking. In addition, if a site/profile tells you that it tracks, it is very important to check if you are being tracked, or if you see a number of online terms such as ‘trackmarker,’ ‘get more data on me’ or ‘track me’, that the site/brand is displaying online.”

According to the study, the use of personal information and simple comparisons like size of online account can reveal potential scammers by spotting potential “power users” online.

“Our findings showed that if your account and basic account features are small, this can put you at risk of being targeted by users,” said Novoselsky-Gibbs.

“At the other end of the scale, people who operate large, seemingly technically adept sites make great targets for bad actors looking to prey on a lack of sophistication in users.

“This is because these sites are straightforward to access via the internet, such as Google Search, Facebook and Twitter, and users are relatively easy to catch. As these sites are highly visual, these simple features make the dirty work of malware creators very easy.”

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