Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Gold lock icon, a reader question: Holiday Edition

Greetings to you on my second favorite holiday and, yes, I felt the earthquake. Today I’m going to answer a reader’s question on a security topic you may find helpful– in the Q’s and their A’s format.

Q: Why did the gold lock icon disappear?
A: The gold lock icon is a visual clue that you are on a webpage that is secured by a special, encrypted connection. These special, encrypted pages are used to transmit the information between machines in a way that, if a hacker were to intercept the 1’s and 0’s (or otherwise obtain a copy), he would not be able to read your credit card number, name, and shipping address. It is absolutely essential to your privacy and fiscal security that you never provide your personal information to a website on a page that DOES NOT start with “https://” (note the “s”, for “secure”; which I discussed in this prior reader questions article) and DOES NOT display a gold lock icon in the address bar. gold_lock.jpg

 Please note, and understand, that an image on a webpage — and I mean on the page itself — can be any graphic the webmaster desires. He could copy and paste a gold lock graphic as easily as I did. The gold lock icon you’re looking for needs to be in (or “on”) your browser itself. It is triggered (in your browser) by the communication protocol — called SSL — and the fact that you are (invisibly to you) switched from the standard HTTP “language” to the encrypted HTTP(S) machine language.

The reason some pages on a website — usually the “log in” and “Shopping Cart” pages — are encrypted and others aren’t, has to do with the fact that https costs money (This helps keep the phishers at bay, btw). A “trust certificate” has to be purchased from a Certificate Authority, like Verisign. There are technical reasons (which I won’t bore you with) why a webmaster will design the website so that only the pages which need encryption are encumbered by it.

The fact is, you only need to see the security indicators on the page that is asking you to send your personal information. You don’t need it when viewing a product catalogue page, and you won’t (if the webmaster is at all competent) see a gold lock icon when viewing these types of pages.
Say you’re shopping for a book on Amazon.com. You will not see a gold lock while you’re browsing around the books-for-sale pages, nor the reviews pages, and so on. Now you’ve found what you’re looking for, and it’s time to dig out your credit card (if you’ve memorized your cc number, well… no comment); you place a check on the item you’re interested in and click on a link titled “Proceed to Secure Checkout”, or “Add to Shopping Cart+Checkout”, or some similar thing. Now is when you need to look for and see the gold lock.
Do not type in a single thing if you don’t.

Today’s free link:There has recently been updates to the other free graphics program, mentioned here earlier, that makes it worth reposting: it’s even more like Photoshop now than ever– Gimp 2.4. “GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a freely distributed piece of software suitable for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring. It is a powerful piece of software with capabilities not found in any other free software product.”

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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October 31, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, Phishing, searching, security, tech, Windows | , , | 13 Comments