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Trust Seals

What are Trust Seals?

Next time you visit your bank’s website to complete a transaction or purchase an item online, take a minute to look around the homepage or on any page that asks you to enter sensitive information.  You should see a small logo somewhere on the page that indicates that the site has been verified. This is a trust seal, and it is awarded to sites that are able to demonstrate commitment to good security practices and/or the presence of secure methods for transactions.  It can also simply tell a consumer whether or not it is a verified business.  Third party companies like Verisign award these seals in order to increase online consumers’ confidence in the sites they use.  What do consumers need to know about trust seals?

Recognizing Trust Seals

It is easy to skim over details when we are browsing; if we didn’t, we would experience sensory overload with each online session.  But one detail that you want to not only be aware of, but actively search for, is the trust seal.  This is most often located at the bottom of a website’s homepage or on pages that require you enter private information, such as your name, address, or any financial data.  Verisign, for instance, uses a checkmark symbol with the text, “Verisign Trusted.”  Because different companies issue these seals, they will have varying appearances.  If you are not sure if a “trust seal” is indeed trustworthy, take a moment to do a Google search.

What Do They Mean?

Trust seals can fulfill different purposes, depending on the site.  There are:

  • Privacy seals.  If a website is awarded a privacy seal, it indicates that the level of privacy is adequate for the site’s particular business practices.  It has a strong privacy policy, and it scans to detect vulnerabilities.
  • Business identity seals.  The “Verified Existence Seal” confirms the “legal, physical, and actual existence” of a business.  
  • Security seals.  There are two types of security seals: server verification and site verification.  The first runs daily scans on the hosting server, while the second ensures that websites have sufficient security measures in place.  This is the most common type of trust seals.

Trust Seals and Site Owner Verification

Tina Hou, marketing manager for trust services at Symantec, says, “There’s a lot of fraudulent activity on the Web these days and consumers are aware of it.  When people come to the site and see the seal they know the site is a safe site to conduct transactions on or browse.”  The Symantec-owned Verisign, for instance, is viewed over 650 million times per day and provides consumers with reassurance when banking, shopping, or browsing.

Verifying site ownership is one of the primary duties of trust seals like Verisign.  “Trust,” Hou says, “is very important these days, particularly in relations to small businesses.”  Consumers need to know that the websites from which they are about to purchase or on which they are about to enter sensitive data is legitimate and secure.  Before a site is awarded a trust seal, its identity must be established.  Verisign compares it to the government verifying a birthdate before issuing an ID card; instead of a birthday, the third-party agent is verifying the website’s right to use a specific domain name and other relevant information.

Trust Seals and Malware Scanning

Security seals are the most popular seal among businesses; more importantly, they are the ones in which consumers put the most trust.  Any business, regardless of size is vulnerable to malware, which is often invisibly embedded within a website’s code.  This means that even if a website is legitimate, its customers’ may not be completely secure during transactions.  When Verisign, Trust Guard, and other reputable companies issue these seals, it indicates to consumers that not only has the identity of the site been verified, it is scanned daily for malware.  

The malware scans accomplish two goals: first, they allow site owners to detect threats quickly and take steps to secure the site, and second, they deter malware developers from installing malicious code in the first place.  Malware developers look for the easiest targets, just as car thieves look for keys in the ignition.   If they find the car locked and see a security system in place, they will typically move on to a more vulnerable vehicle. 

Consumers are also vulnerable while conducting queries on search engines, including Google.  Verisign offers the Seal-in Search option, which can further boost confidence.  The Verisign seal is displayed on the search engine results pages next to sites that are verified Verisign trusted sites.  This tells a consumer, even before he enters the site, that it is verified and trusted, and Verisign only issues the In Search Seal if a site passes its daily malware scan.  To enable Seal-In-Search, users can download a free Link Scanner plug-in from AVG that allows them to see the Verisign Seal-In-Search results.  This plugin will work for Google and Bing, as well as most other search engines. Norton Internet Security and Norton 360 users also see the Seal-In-Search results.

All of these features are designed to help the consumer protect himself online by increasing awareness and making security more manageable and transparent.

Remaining Cautious

It is important to remain cautious even when we see trust signs.  It is possible that scammers can copy legitimate trust seals and use them on rogue websites.  How can consumers protect themselves against fraudulent trust seals?  Verify the authenticity of a seal by clicking on it; check the validation page and make sure it is hosted by the seal provider.  You will see the name and location of the verified site owner, and if the site uses a company like Verisign, you will also be able to see the time and date of the last malware scan.  This extra step takes only a minute, and it is well worth it for increased security and peace of mind.

Trust seals are designed to do just that: enable the customer to trust that the sites he visits are legitimate and secure.  As more and more of our lives are lived online, it is increasingly vital that we keep our private information safe and ensure we are conducting transactions securely.  When visiting a new site to shop, bank, or open an account, take a minute to verify; then, you can trust.

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