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Website Security

imageBrowsing the internet can be a very dangerous place. Every day you hear about groups or people who somehow manage to get individuals personal information. It makes you wonder how secure your web browsing can be. It makes you ask questions when you are checking bank accounts or ordering online. “How secure is this?”

What is meant by “secure”?

Anytime you view a website information is sent from your computer to the web server and from the web server to your computer. The transmission of this information is normally sent in “plain text”, meaning anyone would be able to read it should they see it. Now consider this: Each piece of information transmitted traverses many computers (servers) to reach its destination.
Windows Users, to see just how many machines your information traverses, follow these steps:

1) On your computer, click Start, then Run
2) Type “cmd” and click “OK” (or press Enter)
3) Type this in exactly: tracert www.northerncomputer.ca
4) Press Enter
Each listing in the window is a different computer/router/switch (a “node” in networking terms). Each “node” represents a point at which any data you send might be recorded!

So what’s so special about this you ask? Consider this the next time you type in a password or your credit card number. If your connection isn’t secure your credit card information and password are being transmitted in plain text. The solution? Simple, a secure browsing session or connection to the host server/computer.
SSL uses a complex system of key exchanges between your browser and the server you are communicating with in order to encrypt the data before transmitting it across the web. A web page with an active SSL session is what we mean when we say a web page is “secure”.

So the next time you are browsing a website, check out the prefix of the website. Is your bank site secure? Is the order window displaying your credit card for the world?

How can I tell if a web page is secured?

There are two general indications of a secured web page:
1) Check the web page URL

Normally, when browsing the web, the URLs (web page addresses) begin with the letters “http”. However, over a secure connection the address displayed should begin with “https” – note the “s” at the end.
2) Check for the “Lock” icon

There is a de facto standard among web browsers to display a “lock” icon somewhere in the window of the browser (NOT in the web page display area!) For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer displays the lock icon in the lower-right of the browser window:

As another example, Mozilla’s FireFox Web Browser displays the lock icon in the lower-left corner:

THE LOCK ICON IS NOT JUST A PICTURE! Click (or double-click) on it to see details of the site’s security. This is important to know because some fraudulent web sites are built with a bar at the bottom of the web page to imitate the lock icon of your browser! Therefore it is necessary to test the functionality built into this lock icon. Furthermore, it is very important to KNOW YOUR BROWSER! Check your browser’s help file or contact the makers of your browser software if you are unsure how to use this functionality.

Filed in: Computer Tips

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