The technical term for the address of a web site is Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) which is slightly different but similar enough that most people use the two terms interchangeably. An example of a URL is “nytimes.com” and that is what you would type into the address bar of your browser if you wanted to go directly to the “New York Times” web page. This address scheme is confusing and has been called one of the most user-hostile systems devised by man. It was created many decades ago by computer engineers who had no idea the general public would ever need to learn how to use it.
No matter what kind of computer, tablet, or smartphone you use, a web browser is what you use to browse the internet. Your web browser displays the URL of every web page above the page in an address bar. This is something most users pay no attention to because long and complicated URLs simply make no sense. For example your browser might show an address more than 200 characters long beginning with “www.example.com … ”
Realizing that almost nobody reads these addresses, Apple’s Safari browser started some time ago to hide the complete address unless the user moved his/her mouse pointer to the address bar to instantly reveal all the characters in the URL. Google is now planning to do the same with its popular Chrome browser starting with Version 86. The announced reason for this is to help combat phishing.
The sad truth is that when surfing the internet very few people type in the URL of the site they want to visit. Rather than typing in the correct URL for their bank, such as “chase.com” they use a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and so forth. They enter a search for “chase bank” then Google, Bing, or Yahoo will (hopefully) display a link to chase.com.
A problem can occur when the search engine returns a result leading somewhere other than chase.com or when you click on a link in an email. When that happens, the possibility exists that you might be directed to a phony website.
Google hopes that by hiding parts of the address nobody reads anyway will make it more visually obvious when something suspicious is going on. For instance when you do online banking your browser address bar might show a URL such as “chase.com” and it is hoped you would notice if the address displayed is “chase.com.wescamedu.ru” which in this example would be a phishing page on the WeScamedU site in Russia (.ru). That page might be a perfect counterfeit of the legitimate chase.com page, and any visitor who is fooled by it will soon find that the Russian hackers will quickly use the name and password you entered on the phishing page to access the real bank account and quickly empty all your funds.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.