by Kylene Long
Whether you are a Mac or Windows user, iOS or Android user, your computer or device is potentially vulnerable to infection. You should be cautious about where you go on the Web, what links you click on, and what apps you install.
One way to avoid visiting potentially harmful sites is to use Web of Trust (WOT), a plug-in for desktop browsers that can help you decide whether or not a site might be safe to visit. It uses simple stoplight colors (red, yellow, and green, with an alternative setting for colorblind users) to indicate potentially harmful and likely safe sites. With the WOT plug-in installed, when you search the Web with sites like Google and Bing you'll see colored circles next to each search result so you can have some idea of how trustworthy the site is before you click. If you ever accidentally visit a page that has a poor rating, the plug-in will display a warning. WOT's browser add-on is useful for computer experts and novices alike.
Also, don't always trust that you are typing in a Web address (URL) correctly. Look in the address bar to verify that what you've typed is correct before you press a button to go there. When you're not sure about the spelling of a site or whether it ends in .com or .org for example, or if you make frequent typos, you can alternatively do a Google search for the site's name instead of trying to type it from memory; normally the site you want is within the top few hits. Once you've found the site, you can bookmark it to make it easier to return to later.
Visiting links isn't the only thing to be cautious about. It's also wise to be careful when installing software on your computer or mobile device, including apps from popular app stores like Apple's iOS or Mac App Store, Google Play Store, or Amazon Appstore.
Just because Apple and Google have a vetting process for apps doesn't mean that nothing undesirable ever slips past their app review processes (it happens—and more often than you might think). Always check the ratings on an app before downloading it. If an app has hundreds of reviews and an overall positive rating, it's probably safe. Be aware that there are some look-alike apps out there that at first glance may appear to be popular apps, or affiliated with popular app makers. Checking customer reviews can sometimes help you avoid the more shady apps.
Consider this: If you met a random stranger on the street, would you hand them your phone and let them do whatever they want with it, unsupervised? Whenever you visit a site you've never been to before, or install an app that you've never heard of, you should be aware that you're taking a risk. Obviously there's some risk inherent in doing anything; even legitimate sites can be hacked, for example. But it's still a good idea to keep your guard up, even if you use a Mac or an iPhone, iPad, or other smartphone or tablet.
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