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Consider your browser, the faithful hunting dog of every online user.
Day after day, computer after computer, you send your browser on fetching missions to bring you everything you need to get by in the hustle and bustle of your digital life.
Just like Old Blue, the more faithful your browser performs, the more you tend to take it for granted. Sure, you're loyal to the old dog, (Once an Internet Explorer user, you tend to prefer to stay an Internet Explorer user), but you don't expect the web-sniffing dog that feeds you to fail you, or worse, take a vicious bite out of your private data.
“Your browser is really an amazing tool for gathering an infinite range of information in seconds,” says Nicole Henley, Information Security Officer at Emprise Bank. “But it can also be a pipeline through which a lot of misinformation can be funneled, and in a click or two, you can find your system and your data have been compromised.”
It happens with the best of browsers on an incredibly regular basis. The unfortunate reality is you're sending them out into a worldwide Wild West full of digital bad guys armed with a search engine that can' t always distinguish the blacks hats from the white.
That's where you come in. There are things you can do to equip your browser to be as good of a guard dog as it is a hunting dog. Step one is to know what you're guarding against. Here's the short list of what you need protection from:
Here are some additional steps you can take to keep your browser (and your system) safe and secure:
Make sure your browser is the latest version. Visit https://browsercheck.qualys.com/ to make sure your browser is up to date and that it has all the latest plug-ins.
Check for the latest security patches. Setting your computer up to receive the latest patches not only protects your browser, but your entire operating system. Microsoft releases its updates once a week on what has come to be known as “Patch Tuesday.” Different operating systems require different ways to get your updates. If you have Windows PC, you can use the Windows Updates feature. If you have Windows 7, update your Internet Explorer to version 11. This will ensure you get the most current security updates. Windows 10 users should use Edge Browser instead of Internet Explorer.
Keep your AV guard up. Make sure you've installed an antivirus program from a reputable vendor like Symantec from Norton. As with all applications, be sure to stay current with the latest version of your antivirus software. Security threats are constantly evolving, and the only way to stay ahead of them is to continuously update your AV program.
Avoid phishing emails like the plague. They can send your browser straight into an underworld of malicious hackers out to capture your information.
Be password smart. Don't use the same password for all your online accounts. Also, avoid using the “Auto Complete” feature that stores your account passwords from your browser.
“S” is for secure. Use secure websites for any financial or other sensitive operations. You can identify sites that are secure by their web address. If they start with https:/ /, they're safe because the letter “s” in the address means the data on the site is encrypted. A word to the security wise, though: Older versions of browsers are more vulnerable to data loss because they often use weak encryption ciphers such as SSLv3 or TLS1.0.
Set your bank accounts to alert you. Make sure you get real-time alerts on your mobile devices about any activity on your banking accounts. The sooner you know about suspicious activities, the better for your security.
Try to limit your use of public and free wireless networks. Speaking of dogs that hunt, the online crime community employs malware called “wireless sniffers” to detect your presence on an unsecured network and snatch your data while you surf.
Unplug unused plugins. You may want to save them for a rainy day, but their presence is an open invitation to hackers. You also want to be sure to keep the plugins you are using up to date.
64-bits are better. Browsers built with 64-bit technology are better equipped to play the shell game of hiding your executable codes in random spaces. Most hackers will move on to lower-hanging fruit. Bear in mind that your operating system has to be 64-bit, too.
Download a guard dog to sit in your Windows. If you are a Microsoft Windows user, you can download a utility called the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) to help prevent exploitations of your software vulnerabilities. You can learn more about EMET by visiting: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2458544.
In the end, browser security is up to you, not your browser. You can't really teach an old browser new tricks, but you can learn and apply a few tips that might keep your browser from dragging back a virus on your next expedition.