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Watch those links!

Everyone has probably seen email that contains links to web sites.  HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language, is the programming language that makes this possible.  HTML is a programming language used to create web sites and, in the case of an email that contains links, email.  The link that you see in your email is merely a text "label" for you to see.  HTML is actually doing the work behind the scenes.

As an example, click on the link below and see where it takes you.  All indications are that you will be visiting the US-CERT web site.

Back so soon?  You didn't make it to the US-Cert web site because the HTML code associated with that text label you saw directed you somewhere else.  In this case, to another page created in this web site for the purposes of this demonstration.  However, it could have directed you to a copy of your bank's web site, created by identity thieves, that was designed to steal your user name, password, and account number when you logged in, or any other malicious web site.  You may see this type of malicious activity associated with a phishing attack.

So, how do you defend against this?  One way is to never click on links contained in unsolicited email.  It is a prudent practice to always "copy" and "paste" the link into your web browser's address bar.  If the link is not the actual URL, or Universal Resource Locator, of the web site, try hovering your cursor over the link and look at the screen tip that pops up or check the status bar at the bottom left of your browser to see if the actual address is displayed.  Then, if you feel the address is legitimate, type it into your browser's address bar and click the "go" button at the right of the bar.

Using the same link you clicked on above, highlight the link above by left clicking your mouse and dragging over the link.  With the link highlighted, push the "Ctrl" and "C" keys on your keyboard at the same time.  This is a keyboard shortcut to "copy" the selected text.  An alternative would be to right click on the highlighted text and select "copy".  Next, we will probably need a new window to work in so that you don't lose your place.  So, go to the "File" button on  your  browser and hover over "New", and select "Window".  This will open a new instance of the browser.  Now move your cursor to the address bar and push the "Ctrl" and "V" keys at the same time.  This pastes the copied link into your browser's address bar.  Alternatively, right click inside the address bar and select "paste" from the menu.  Either push the "Enter" button on your keyboard or click on the "Go" button to the right of your address bar.  I'll give you a minute to do that...

Using "copy" and "paste" to enter the address manually into the address bar took you to the actual US-Cert web site.  So, is this the best way to handle links in email and on web sites?  Not always.  Try dragging your mouse completely over the link below until the highlighting ends.  Can you see the additional address information, "/resources.html"?  The text color for that part of the address was changed to "white" so that you could not see it.  You may, or may not see the actual text as you highlight it, but, you should at least notice that the highlighting extends beyond the text that you can see.  Just another way to trick you into going to an unintended destination on the internet.         

The best defense against these deceptions is to simply type the address into your browser's address bar.  That way, you have complete control of your browser's course on the internet.  Use search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or MSN to help you when you are not sure about the address.

By taking these simple precautions when viewing email with links, you can make sure you are going where you intend to go on the internet which will make your use of the internet much safer!