It’s important to know how to browse safely. Luckily, it’s easy. All you need to do is look at your web browser and it will tell you if you’re being safe.
Check your browser
Your browser will tell you if it is using a secure connection. We’re using Chrome for these examples, but every browser will do something similar. If you look at the URL for techfornontechies.com you will see a green padlock. It means that the site is secure and you can browse safely.
The site uses something called a certificate. It’s like an ID for websites. That certificate is issued to the website by a trusted source called a certificate authority, or CA. As you browse to a new page, your web browser will use the certificate authority to verify that the certificate a website is using is valid. If it valid, your browser will tell you.
You might also have noticed that the address begins with https and not http. The ‘s’ stands for secure. It means that the data from your browsing is encrypted. Most major sites will automatically use the https connection. If you are submitting personal information, you should look for that in the address bar.
What if it’s not secure?
Not every site is using a secure connection. That just means that the data is traveling through the internet unencrypted. That might not be a big deal if you’re just reading a blog, but it’s a huge problem if you’re shopping and about to enter your credit card. Here are the other symbols you will see using Chrome:
Most of the time you will see the Info symbol if you go to a URL that begins with http. However, it is still possible that the site is set up for https. The best thing to do here is to just add the ‘s’. If it works, great. If not, you will need to decide if you still want to be on that site. Some sites will do that for you and redirect you to the secure version. Try changing the URL for this page to http://techfornontechies.com/browsing-safely/.
The next symbol could mean something really bad or that something isn’t setup correctly. If you see that, it’s usually best to move on to a different site. If you are shopping, find another internet store.
Can I really trust this?
Mostly. There are a dozen or so certificate authorities and they have very strict rules on how they operate. Inside of your browser is a list of the CAs that it trusts. There is also a list of CAs that it no longer trusts. If a CA doesn’t strictly follow the rules, they get dropped. If you see that padlock, you will know that a site is using a verified certificate and that the connection is secure. The only problem is that the process doesn’t really verify that the certificate belongs to that particular site.
Some sites go through more effort and verify that the certificate belongs to the site. You should see this, particularly at banks. For example, look at Bank of America:
If you are about to enter your credit card number or really any personal information, for that matter, make sure you are browsing safely. Look for the padlock in the address bar (or the status bar on some browsers).