Safe Browsing Guide – II

Continued from Safe Browsing Guide – I

You might get some ‘warnings’ while opening secure pages, like below:

Warnings

The first one means that the certificate could have been signed by anyone, including by someone you do not trust. If all I need is encryption: for example if I am sending email, and not sending any corporate presentations, or password, or credit card numbers – I should be fine. Many websites use such certificates – but if it’s a bank website using it – I would not login. To give you an idea of the relative security impact of many of the warnings discussed during this guide: this particular warning has a severity of 40 out of 100. It means even on seeing this warning, I am 60% likely to use the website.

The second one means that the certificate has expired. In this case, I would check what is the expiry date (by clicking on the lock) and if it expired a couple of days back I would allow it. In addition, if its sensitive information, I would not use the site until the issue is fixed. This one has a severity of 30.

The last one says that the website names do not match between the certificate and the actual website you are visiting. This could be a case of phishing, and could be serious. What I do in such a case is I find out what name the certificate is issued to (clicking on the lock icon) and check it against the actual website in the URL. If the website visited is server.icicibank.com and the certificate is for icicibank.com – I continue to use the site. If the two are very different, I don’t use the site. Severity is 80.

Mozilla issues one message for each of the issues as noted above while Internet Explorer (shown above) issues just one message with error icons:

Warnings

This corresponds to the second warning from Internet Explorer.

Warnings

This one corresponds to the first warning from Internet Explorer, same actions apply.

Another warning that you might see is this one:

Warnings

Correspondingly for Mozilla:

Warnings

This warning means that there is some content on the page which is not encrypted: this could be images or something else. Severity is 50: on GMail it may mean that the emails have such content so it’s ok to continue to do your stuff. However, if on one of the emails you are sending a password – you may want to be careful.

Lastly I would encourage visitors to read this advise on safe browsing from a security expert. This essay from 2004 is still good.

Disclaimer: This is just a guide and is not meant to replace professional advise. No measures can guarantee 100% security. There are a lot of threat vectors outside the scope of this tutorial: such as key loggers on your computer. In addition, the severities explained for warnings are just guides and have no scientific basis.

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Safe Browsing Guide – I

When you browse over the Internet, or Chat, or send/receive email – you are not doing that in private. It is important to understand exactly what is private, and what steps you need to follow to maintain the privacy.

When accessing any website such as Yahoo.com, you get connected to the web site’s server which provides you the information you seek – search results, or email. This connection is not direct: you are connected through a series of nodes. Each node can view/alter the information that is flowing through it.

A protocol – ‘https’ provides privacy to your interaction by adding a ‘Secure Socket Layer‘ on top of the normal HTTP protocol. Enough of jargon, back to English!

So when you use this particular protocol you are secure subject to some caveats. Use of this protocol can be confirmed through the ‘https’ at the beginning of the URL, and through the ‘lock’ icon at the bottom right: Lock.

A lot of online websites support HTTPS for logging in. You have to select ‘secure’ at the login screen where you enter username/password. This means that your password is protected during the communication. However, these sites move back to normal mode after the login: your data (for example the email content) is not protected. Gmail supports secure connection even after login but you have to enable it in the settings – this makes sense and you should do it. However, even after doing this it does not mean that all your content is ‘protected’ – more on this later.

Please understand that if its emails in question: just your using a secure connection is not enough. The recipient should also use it for the information to remain inaccessible at the nodes.

Proceed to the next part of the guide.

Disclaimer: This is just a guide and is not meant to replace professional advise. No measures can guarantee 100% security. There are a lot of threat vectors outside the scope of this tutorial: such as key loggers on your computer. In addition, the severities explained for warnings are just guides and have no scientific basis.

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