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Published On: September 11, 2018 by Blake Schwank

Curtis Hyde knows a thing or two about computer security.  Our Colorado Springs cybersecurity specialist breaks down the latest threat that it is hitting local companies leaving business professionals asking, “is there a computer security expert near me?”

No matter where you are, computer safety is important. Expert computer security solutions in Colorado Springs can provide you with great protection against virtually every threat on the internet, but nothing beats an informed user. If you want maximum safety on the internet, then you need to understand some of the trickiest threats out there. Today, that means learning about pharming.

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What Is Pharming

To put it in the simplest terms possible, pharming is the use of a fake website to try and coax personal or financial information out of users. It typically works like this. A nefarious website will make itself look like a site you trust. It will then use aggressive advertising, redirects or a number of other tactics to get you to visit. Once there, it will ask for personal, contact or financial information. The unwitting often provide that data, and it is then used to steal identities, spam advertisements or create other forms of havoc. It’s a frightening prospect, but when you know a few tricks to spot these fake websites, the risk to yourself and your business drops dramatically. These are the three red flags that can help you spot a pharming website from a mile away.

A Missing “s”

If you’ve ever used the internet, you’re probably aware that websites start with the letters “http”. That’s a standardized format, and even sites of an adversarial nature have to follow it. What is slightly less common knowledge is that there is a second format that utilizes a protection protocol known as Secure Socket Layer (SSL). Without going too far down the rabbit hole, SSL protects your connection to a site so third parties can’t steal information from your time on the given site. You can always spot an SSL connection because the URL for the website will begin with “https” instead of “http”.

Now, this alone does not guarantee that a site is safe, but without the “s”, you’re at risk. Google and several other tech giants have launched an initiative over the past few years to pressure virtually all legitimate websites to incorporate the use of SSL. As part of that initiative, they’ve also pushed a verification process that helps identified known-good businesses. This involves an Extended Validation, and it’s easy for you to spot as a user. Sites with Extended Validation have their “https” appear as green. If it has the “s” and it’s green, you’re in good shape.

A Fishy Name

Unfortunately, dedicated pharmers can get past some of these simple checks. They can build a nefarious site that uses SSL, or they can go to lengths to convince you to trust a site that doesn’t have the obvious credentials. One of the ways you can spot these efforts is by simply reading the web address. If you’re trying to purchase a specific brand and the site you’re on has nothing to do with that brand, you might be on an unsafe site. Obviously, you can also stick to known retailers (like Amazon) to avoid this in most cases, but any prompt for personal information should be preceded by reading the whole URL. Sometimes it will be subtly altered from your expectations (such as a single missing letter). Other times you’ll be redirected to a site that has a name you don’t recognize at all. If that’s the case, you’re safer browsing somewhere else.

Poor Writing

A business’s webpage is more public facing than a store front. You can trust that any serious business will invest in professional quality writing for that site. If you end up on a page with atrocious spelling and grammar, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ve been sent to a pharming site. This is because a large number of these sites are made overseas to avoid regulatory oversight. That lends many of them to be produced by people who do not speak English as a first or even second language, and the mistakes follow. That said, remember this one important thing: pharming sites can exist in perfect English.

You can see why it’s important to have strong network security in Colorado Springs. Automated protection is always your best defense, especially when you supplement it with informed browsing habits.

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