Cyber street smarts: Don’t get tricked by sketchy sites

What Is a Malicious Website?

A malicious website is a website that hosts malware. In turn, that malware can be snuck on to your computer via security holes in out of date software. Sometimes, this requires some action on your part, however, in the case of a drive-by download, the website will just install software on your computer without asking for permission or even notifying you.

These types of dangers can appear as websites that are built by cybercriminals, legitimate websites that can host malvertising (advertisements that host malware rather than a whole website) or the full site has been hijacked by a hacker. Malicious websites often look just like legitimate websites in order to trick you into thinking you are visiting a safe site. It only takes one unsafe installation of a piece of malware to compromise your machine, and your sensitive information along with it.

What Is a Drive-By Download?

As malicious sites host the malware, Drive-by downloads are the delivery method used to inject the malware onto your computer. Malware can be silently installed on your computer simply by visiting the compromised site. This type of malware is particularly frightening, because it’s impossible to know if you’ve done something to install the malware.

How Do I Protect Myself Against Malicious Websites and Drive-By Downloads?

  • Using comprehensive Internet security software will help prevent known drive-by downloads and warn you when you try to visit a malicious website.
  • Keep your computer’s software up to date, most importantly your operating system and web browsers. Often times, hackers utilize known security problems in software before manufacturers can patch the problem. Updating your software prevents you from becoming low-hanging fruit.
  • Don’t open emails that seem suspicious or “spammy,” especially if they contain attachments or links and are from unknown senders.
  • If you get a link in an email, it would be best to visit the main website by typing the address into your browser manually. When in doubt, call the person who sent you the email before clicking.
  • If a website seems off, looks like it’s installing something or is asking permission to install unexpected files, you’re better off closing the window and looking for content elsewhere.

There are a lot of dangers out there and malicious websites hosting drive-by downloads are some of the newest and scariest. But there are ways for you to protect yourself so that you can use the Internet without trouble. Do your due diligence and exercise reasonable caution and your web surfing should be smooth sailing.

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