Three ways to spot fake news online

ESET Software Australia
Wednesday, 06 July, 2022


Over the past few years, we’ve seen hundreds of fake news sites pop up. At the same time, phishing emails have become prevalent as more and more people are hopping online for everything from work to workouts, school, extracurriculars and everything in between.

Cybercriminals are opportunists by nature, so these developments are no surprise to cybersecurity experts at ESET. Here, they explain how to spot misinformation and how to fact-check fake news so you can be sure that what you’re reading is accurate.

1. The article is missing publication details

Open up any legitimate article online, and it will have key details like the author and the date of publication (or when it was last updated). In the digital publishing world, these are known as “trust signals” as readers know exactly who produced the content, as well as when it was reviewed.

If you come across a suspicious news article that seems a little off, check to see if it has these details. In many cases, fake information sources won’t attribute the article to an author or include a date. Why? Because they don’t want wary readers to be able to trace the origins of the false information.

The same principle applies to emails and direct messages you may receive via social media platforms. Phishing scams are incredibly common, and filtering systems don’t always catch them. One of the sure-fire ways to spot a scam is by hovering over the “sender” field. If the email address and domain name don’t match, that’s a telltale sign of a scam. For example, scammers often add extra numbers or letters to their email address (eg, janesmith123@xxx.com) or you’ll notice that their email is coming from a standard Gmail or Outlook account, rather than a proper company email address.

As for social media messages, check the sender’s profile to see if they have any content or community — and if their followers are made up of bots, steer clear.

Top tip: Avoid interacting with people you don’t know or trust on social media and search for authors of articles to make sure they have the credentials to back up their expertise.

2. The article is hosted on an unsecured site

Websites fall into one of two categories: secured and unsecured. Ideally, you don’t want to visit unsecured sites as that means they don’t have protections in place and your information might be compromised.

To figure out if a site is safe, look at the URL bar. If the URL starts with https://, you can confidently browse that site. HTTPs stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, which means the site holds a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate. In other words, it’s encrypted. This technology safeguards the site from cyber attacks, and keeps any data that passes between the site’s visitors (aka you) and servers private. Think usernames, passwords and credit card numbers.

When a site has an HTTPs URL, you’ll also see a green lock sign in the toolbar, which is another trust signal. On the other hand, if you land on an HTTP site (no “s”), you’ll get a message saying “this site is not secure.” It doesn’t have cybersecurity measures, so it poses more risk.

3. The content is emotional

People who post false information online tend to play with readers’ emotions as a way to ‘hook’ them in. Here’s how to identify fake news and how to spot disinformation:

  • If an email, article or post incites panic or excitement, treat it with caution. For example, a recent Coinbase hack sent an email to all of the app’s users saying their account had been compromised and they should log in to verify their details — which were promptly stolen by cybercriminals.
  • If the content of a news story is graphic, verify that story with another source. Legitimate news sites typically don’t share disturbing images or videos, or they add a clear trigger warning that you need to interact with to access it.
  • If the offer, promise or information is too good to be true, it probably is. You’re more likely to hear about a great investment opportunity from your financial advisor, not a random person online, for instance.
  • If there are tons of exclamation marks or sentences with large, red or bolded font screaming for your attention, that’s another sign of a scam. Content published by legitimate companies is the work of professional writers and editors, with reputations at stake. On a similar note, if you land on an article that’s riddled with spelling or grammatical errors, that’s a red flag.

Protect your devices with a good antivirus software

The cybercriminals behind fake news sites and phishing emails often try to get you to click on a link, open an attachment or engage with the content in some way, and when you do, they download malware to your device. Malware is short for “malicious software” and it takes many forms, but aims to destroy, damage or steal your data.

The most effective way to prevent malware is by using antivirus software. For your personal devices, ESET Internet Security offers a multi-layered defence against a range of cyber attacks. It also prevents hackers from accessing your router or webcam, and scans attachments and images for viruses.

If you’re running cybersecurity for a business, look into ESET Protect Complete. It offers the same multi-layered defence, as well as endpoint protection, multi-factor authentication (MFA) setup and encryption across wireless devices, which is key if your company has employees who work remotely. Along with brushing up on your cybersecurity practices, it’s worth investing in a third-party software for peace of mind when you’re online.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Konstantin Yuganov

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