How To Spot Bad Web Links

Computer security specialists, myself included, recommend that you avoid clicking on bad web links. But how can you tell a bad link from a good one? Even if you're going after legitimate software it may be difficult to tell the difference. To demonstrate, I've pulled screenshots from the downloads for two of my most-recommended security tools, the free AVG anti-virus program and the free Spybot anti-spyware program.

The first hurdle comes when you search for these products. As you can see from this screenshot of a search for Spybot, it's hard to tell which link to click.

The key is to look for the words "sponsored links" or "sponsored ads". These are links, often phony, which come up when certain keywords are typed. There are plenty of bad or questionable links associated with the keyword "Spybot." This is the same vicious technique hackers use to get you to click on bad links when you're searching for hot topics like "swine flu" or "virus removal." It's black-hat search optimization, and the big search engines like Google and Yahoo aren't going to protect you. They don't care if the keywords link to malicious sites as long as they're getting paid for the ads.

Let's assume you've navigated yourself to the correct page to download Spybot. Even here, there's a catch. Most software is downloaded from aggregate "mirror" sites, in this case CNet. These sites have keyword-based advertisements too, not all of them good. In this screenshot I've highlighted the ads in red, the correct Spybot download links in green. It's like an obstacle course!

The AVG examples demonstrate the same thing. Assuming you've gotten yourself to the correct download page, you've got more bad links to avoid. Sometimes the positioning is such that the bad link looks like the good one. In this case, the words in blue, "Ad Feedback," show you which parts of the page are ads. If you mentally divide the page up into regions you can see where the ads are versus where the content is.


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Posted byTriona Guidry at 5:27 AM  

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