Browsers are one of the keys to internet security. Actually, I suppose they’re really more like the car than the key. After all, they’re the vehicle we use to travel around the web. Occasionally an unwanted passenger jumps on board though, and could even carjack your browser – taking you somewhere you don’t want to be.
So, what to do?
There are a number of options, the first of which is the browser software you choose to use. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still has the lion’s share of the market, but it’s losing ground to other, more secure browsers such as Firefox.
Even when not inherently better, other browsers and operating systems are less popular targets. Until both legislators and software vendors get really serious about security, it’s possible to reduce your ‘target area’ by staying out of the limelight.
Education is another key to ‘hardening’ browser security.
There are a large number of options in both Internet Explorer and most other browsers that control what is and isn’t allowed. Most users have little or no knowledge of how these setting affect them.
For example, is it desirable to ‘Allow ActiveX controls and plug-ins’ to Run, or should that be set to Prompt? Individual judgments here, as in all aspects of security in life, have to be made. One factor is your tolerance for responding to prompts versus your willingness to risk infection. After all, you have to decide whom to let in your car, don’t you?
It’s an undesirable trade-off to be faced with, and one which we can hope someday won’t be necessary. But in the interim, it isn’t necessary to be a computer geek to experiment and read a bit to find out what these settings affect. The first time you’re infected and lose a day recovering, you’ll wish you’d spent the two hours finding out.
Proper use is the final leg of browser security. Do you practice ‘safe browsing’? Some sites prompt to download ActiveX controls (little programs), dialers, adware and other dynamic content. Do you really know what’s likely to happen when you say yes, or are you trusting the source? Trust is necessary, but as the old saying goes ‘Trust, but keep your eyes open’.
Most people don’t realize just how much information is made available simply by browsing the internet. When you visit a website, various pieces of information about your location and your computer get shared with them – it’s a two way street.
Back to education for a moment. Spend some time learning how to lock down your system, outside the browser settings, to make it more difficult for these errant programs to gain Administrator level privileges. Your time will be well re-paid.