Click Behavior

As I write this we are in the third day after the earthquake in Haiti.  Images, videos, the sounds and the horrors of the earthquake have sunk into our collective memories.  While many of us feel a great need and compassion to give, in the hopes of helping those in their hour of great need, it would behoove us to take pause for many of the requests that we have coming in for donations.

It is noble that our government has chosen to send aid to this impoverished nation.  In my mind, it is more than noble–it is a necessity.  Having said that, in no way do I want you to think that means that we, as American citizens, should not give of our own resources and wealth that God has so graciously bestowed on us to assist those in need.

While this is not a blog post that is intended to encourage you to give, I certainly don’t want to discourage giving. The intent of this post is to merely point out the obvious–during this time of need, you will probably receive e-mail requests that are designed to get you to send your hard earned money to assist some organization in order to help the Haitian people.

And I want to let you know that you should be wary of many, if not all, of these requests for assistance. As I have previously posted on this blog (here and here), it is not hard to craft an e-mail that can send you to a phishing or a spoof site that will take your donation and put it into the pockets of some unscrupulous persons.

If you really want to give so that helps folks in Haiti, I would recommend you take the initiative and give to the nonprofit charity of your choice. This maybe the American Red Cross, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, or any one of hundreds of organizations that can help during this time of need.

I would not suggest you give to organizations that are run by our government. Unfortunately, many of these organizations have higher overhead costs (such as management, oversight, bureaucracy, etc.) so that your dollar dwindles in its assistance power.  (Note: I’m not saying giving to government organizations is bad, I am pointing out the obvious–that you may not get the most bang for your buck.)

So during this time of great need, I’m positive Americans will rise up and give greatly.  It seems to be in our nature.  It seems to be the path we continue to choose to walk down.  And that’s (yet) another reason to be proud of being an American!

But be wary of those asking for your donations.  You may want to bypass the e-mail requests altogether, and just take the initiative to give to the organization of your choice.  Keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle through this time of great sorrow.


This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Click Behavior

This is the second part of my series on Click Behavior.  A lot of problems and headaches could be avoided if we had some tools at our disposal to go with the knowledge we are gaining about what to click on – and what not to click on.  In this post I’m going to speak of two tools that I use, but I don’t want you to think these are the only two available.  There are loads of tools that you could use, but I can really only speak to those I trust and use.

Often times we find things using search engines.  And many search engines are available to you and I, so sticking with a single search engine is not our best strategy!  We need something that is looking out for us as search results are presented to us.  This is where my use of tools pays dividends.

Let’s say I happen to be using a search engine to research crack for a paper I’m writing.  Now, the search engine doesn’t know if I’m looking for information on an illegal drug for my paper or if I’m looking for an illegal code for some software or even if I’m looking for information on fixing a crack in my home’s foundation.  So, it just presents information on crack.  Here’s an example of what I found on the first page of results.  (Click on the image for a larger picture to review.)

Clues to Links to Click On

The two tools that you are seeing are (1) WOT (Web of Trust – and (2) AVG LinkScanner (part of my AVG Anti-Virus package, but you can get it for free here).  Let’s take in WOT first.

WOT InformationWOT is a tool that I use that is part of a community of users keeping the web ‘safe’ upon themselves.  It’s not that they don’t want others to help, I believe it is just that many folks don’t know about this tool.  You sign up and install the application (I use it as a plug in to my Mozilla Firefox browser).  Then, you get warned of dangerous sites and you can contribute to the community by rating the sites you visit.  As you could see in the image I posted up above, I point to one that is red and another with a question mark in it (and you can see the others are green).

If you hold your mouse over that red circle you can see what information others have compiled on this site in 4 areas: Trustworthiness, Vendor reliability, Privacy and Child safety.  You get a visual of how others have rated the site with the red / yellow / green circle at the end of each link, and you can rate the site yourself or see why others rated the site as they did.  A very nice addition to your security / web surfing safety arsenal!

AVG LinkScannerNext, let’s see what the AVG LinkScanner does for us.  Again, in the first screenshot for this post there are two arrows from bubble 2 – one to a green check mark (all is safe) and the other to a yellow with a couple of exclamation marks.  Again, if we mouse over this icon we get more information about why we are getting the ratings we are presented with.  These are green, yellow or red as well – so that eases your thought processes while looking for information.  If something is red, you should certainly stop, yellow should be approached with caution (if at all), and green should be good to visit.

While these tools are not perfect, they are better than having no information at all on the links that are presented to you when you perform a search.  I mean, let’s think about it.  SEO (search engine optimization) does wonderful things for site owners – and some site owners do not have your best interest at heart!  So they can certainly work for top (or near the top) placement on popular keywords and then you click on them.  I mean, if they weren’t the right results, they wouldn’t show up first, right?  That’s exactly what they want you to think!

It’s my hope this helps someone to practice safe surfing.  If you have other suggestions or tools you want to share about, feel free to leave a comment.  Until next time, take care!


This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Click Behavior

You’ve heard it all before – practice safe computing.  That means (to this writer and many others) keep your software patched and up to date, put a personal firewall on your computer (to control what comes in to the computer and out from the computer) and install anti-virus software (and keep it up to date with current definitions).  And many folks follow this advise – good for you!

But there is an area that still faces challenges even with all of the other items done above – that would be your click behavior.  Some people might put this in with other behaviors that we face everyday, or even in the category of social engineering.  I’m certain there is some validity to these thoughts – however, click behavior I’m talking about has to do with you, your mind, your finger(s) – and how all that comes together to become more than a thought, it becomes the action where you click on … something.

Let me explain.  We sit down to read our e-mails.  Oh, cousin Aaragon sent me all the normal jokes and chain letter warnings – I just delete them.  There’s a message from my friend Legalos, with a link to a news article.  I click on that – oh my, that wasn’t the type of news I expected at all!  Now I have this pop up saying my computer could be at risk because of (fill in the blank here, anti-virus, trojan, spyware, etc.).  Click on the box!

And you’re had.

Often times, these ‘ads’ appear to be legitimate, or at least they look like they may be something that came from our installed protection software.  Be very careful, many are not.  A quick look at Wikipedia reveals interesting names like ANG Antivirus (not to be confused with the product I use – AVG Antivirus).  Or maybe MS Antivirus (or one of the other names it is known by, like XP Antivirus, Vitae Antivirus, Windows Antivirus, Win Antivirus, Antivirus Pro, Antivirus Pro 2009, Antivirus 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 360, Internet Antivirus Plus, System Antivirus, Spyware Guard 2008 and 2009, Spyware Protect 2009, Winweb Security 2008, System Security, Malware Defender 2009, Ultimate Antivirus2008, Vista Antivirus, General Antivirus, AntiSpywareMaster, Antispyware 2008, XP AntiSpyware 2008 and 2009, WinPCDefender, Antivirus XP Pro, Anti-Virus-1, and Total Security).  The name changes all the time, but the intent does not – to infect your machine and to get your money if possible.

Now how did this all begin?  Oh, right – we clicked on something.  So, are there ways we can avoid this problem?  Certainly!

First, make sure you ARE practicing safe computing.  Then, be wary of pop ups that are warning you of impending doom (don’t click OK on them).  If you have that happen, perhaps you should learn to kill that window using Windows Task Manager (for you Microsoft Operating System users).  Here’s an article on how to get Task Manager open (normally by pressing CTRL+ALT+DELETE, and then click Task Manager).  From there you should be on the application tab, select the window you want to end (or shut down or get rid of) and click on end task.  Below is a screen shot of this tool, I circled the tab at the top and the end task button so you could easily see what I’m referring to.

Task Manager (in Vista)

That could be an easy first line of defense.  Another area is that of knowing that your click will take you somewhere – but it may not be where you think it is.  My rule of thumb there is – don’t click.  If you want to see it, type in the URL (if you are reasonably certain it is legitimate).  There are times that you don’t know what the link leads to – you mouse over the text and see!  Below is a screen shot (and click on it to get a larger shot that opens in a separate window).

Link Hints

Here, I’ve numbered these so I can better type to them.  Number 1 is the address bar of my web browser.  That tells me where I currently am, or the page I’m currently viewing.

Number 2 shows me with my cursor over a link on the page.  When I put my cursor there, notice what happens in the bottom right of my web browser screen – it tells me where that link is going to go (if I click on it).  That’s a nice clue to have, even when the link has a URL in there, I’m going to check the bottom of my browser to make sure it is going where it is suppose to go and not somewhere else.  This even works in many computer-based e-mail programs (see below for one).

Don't Click There!

Clicking on that link is not taking me to PayPal…perhaps that is one I shouldn’t click on (actually, I forward these to spoof [at] paypal [dot] com so they can work to stop this type of abuse).  So be smart and use these clues to your advantage.

Number 3 as shown earlier is part of my Web of Trust.  In the second part of this post (will be up later this month) I’ll address this tool and others you may want to use when searching the web as you follow links in search engine results.  Until then, thanks for reading!