Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

The rule of thumb, to keep your computer safe, is to not click on links you are unsure of... but how do you be sure?

Leo: This relates to the popular social planning website, Evite, and Evite invitations for parties, meetings, and other special events that are emailed out by friends and families. These emails contain a link which the recipient must open in order to view the detail of the invitations. My understanding is that there is no other way to view these details unless you are registered with Evite (I am not), in which case you can go directly to the Evite website to see the information. My family and I receive several Evite invitations each month from our friends. Usually, we (and probably most other people) click on the Evite link without a second thought. Lately, however, more and more of these friends of mine have had their email addresses spoofed or accounts hacked. In addition, you and others have warned us to be very careful about clicking on links in emails. Taken all together, it seems like opening Evite links is riskier than we think. Your thoughts?

In this excerpt from Answercast #24, I talk about the issue of clicking on links in email and suggest ways to keep your email safe.

Email accounts hacked

First of all, Evite is a reputable service and a reputable company and I believe I'm actually registered with them, too.

The issue is that, yes, email accounts are absolutely getting comprised at a relatively high rate.

It's kinda scary, but it is not due to for example Evite. It's actually due, I believe, to other things:

  • People falling for phishing attempts.

  • People not having good passwords and so forth.

Now, that being said, Any service that you register with, if their database is compromised, then yes; all of a sudden, your email address is out there. It's potentially stolen by spammers for them to, not so much send email from you, but rather to send you more spam and more phishing opportunities.

Don't click on suspicious links

So the general rule of thumb for links in emails still holds:

  • The rule of thumb isn't: don't click on links.

  • The rule of thumb is: don't click on links that you aren't sure of, that you aren't certain are appropriate.

Evite falls into the "Appropriate" category for me... but make sure that's where it's going.

If you're not sure, if you've got an Evite account, don't click on the link. Instead, go to the service's website and login manually there. Supposedly everything that's been sent to your email address will show up in your account with that service.

That's the whole idea behind not clicking on links in emails.

Security on websites

Like I said, there's not really much that's in your control when you sign up for various services. They then have your email address and that does get put into their database, which they presumably are keeping an appropriate level of security on.

Naturally, we hear periodically of databases being compromised and email addresses being stolen. That's an argument for using different email addresses for different purposes.

  • Sign up for Evite with a different email address.

For any service for which you're not 100% certain, signup with a different email address; what we tend to refer to as a "throw-away" email address. Then, if something were actually to happen to that specific email address, you can just stop using it without there being too high a cost.

Spoofing

Finally, spoofing: email that gets sent looking like it's from you.

  • You don't have to have signed up for anything for that to happen!

All that has to happen is to receive some spam, or have something that looks like a common email address. Spammers are always grabbing email addresses from wherever they can.

Posting on websites has been, for example, one popular way for scammers to pick up valid email address. They then not only send spam, but also use those email addresses as the fake "From" addresses on emails that they send.

But in short, as long as you understand that the service that you are connecting to:

A) is the one that you think it is and

B) is a reasonably reputable service (I believe Evite falls into that category)

...then yes, it's a fine thing to click through.

Article C5429 - June 6, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
James
June 10, 2012 12:47 PM

And yet another reason to use Thunderbird!

When I get an email with a link in it, whether I'm registered with them or not, I hover over the link and the status bar in Thunderbird will tell me exactly where that link is going to go. I won't click on a link in an email until I know exactly where it's going to take me and I know I can trust the destination.

Thunderbird also tries to be helpful and flag emails with suspicious links. For example, Thunderbird thinks Leo's emails are spam because some of the links in the emails don't go back to ask-leo.com but rather to aweber.com. Since Leo has already explained that he uses aweber, I don't have a problem clicking links in his emails.

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