Secure Web Surfing
Secure Web Surfing

Users of home or public computers can limit virus exposure by updating browsers and operating systems and knowing what vulnerabilities not to fall prey to.

With the home use of computers or in public settings such as coffee houses or where a WiFi wireless connection is available, secure surfing on the web at all times should be a priority. Indicators may appear to users that could be warnings of possibly compromised data.

The pitfalls of web browsers as computer programs for accessing network sites are potential connections to viruses, hackers, and those online with illegal intentions. The most common browsers available are: Internet Explorer (due to the dominance of Microsoft Windows), Mozila Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera.

Need for regular system updates

It is important to regularly update your operating system and web browser. Windows has an automatic update component that updates itself and Internet Explorer. The Firefox and Safari browsers also update automatically.

Attributes to look for in a browser include: frequency of updates/patches, amount of vulnerabilities, speed, and sandboxing support. Some of the newer browsers–I.E. 9, Firefox 4–do fairly well in this regard. But some of the older browsers–I.E. 6 and 7–are no longer supported by Microsoft patches.

When you are prompted to download an important update, do not put off doing that. Along with security, speed is an important aspect when selecting a browser in terms of initial start-up time, average start-up time, and navigation time.

The browser’s sandboxing function executes code in an isolated environment to protect systems from malicious software known as malware. All contemporary browsers have some type of sandboxing support (I.E. 9, Chrome II, Firefox 4, Safari 5). When you interact with a page on the web, actual code is being written and your system is coming in contact with that code.

With sandboxing, the browser runs that code in a separate environment to ensure that the code is not malicious. If code is malware, it will crash that browser tab rather than your machine.

Maintaining continual anti-virus software

Another essential step is running anti-virus or internet security software at all times. Windows includes anti-malware software, Windows Defender, and Microsoft provides an anti-virus product called Microsoft Security Essentials that can be downloaded for free. Other anti-virus products are AVG and Avast!

As an additional precaution, the Online Privacy Alliance, an advocacy organization for protecting individual privacy on the web, recommends erasing web sites visited, particularly if a computer is being shared with others. That means emptying your browser cache so others can’t see where you’ve been surfing. Additional steps can be clearing the Recycling Bin, Address Bar, Favorite Sites, Bookmarks, and Recent Documents areas.

Having https (for Secure Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol) in a site’s navigation bar establishes a secure channel between your system and the server. This enables all the traffic sent to that server to be encrypted through an SSL (secure socket layer).

Trace Mayer, writing in “Safely Surf the Internet From a Public Wireless Network on How to on February 16, 2010, said: “An https connection, is when you see a letter ‘s’, standing for secure, following the normal ‘http’ that you see while you are web surfing. Often there is a small padlock indicating the secure session. This will allow you to have a safe, secure, encrypted session with the server. This is always important but especially more so when you are on a public network. Make sure you do this whenever logging into financial sites such as a bank account, Paypal or GoldMoney account.”

If someone removes the “s,” your traffic is no longer secure through an http site. Also take note if a message appears on your screen that a problem exists with a website’s security certificate. Rather than clicking to continue to the site, which is not recommended, it is better to close the webpage because someone could be in between your computer and the server you’re trying to reach attempting to obtain your username or password, or other sensitive data.

Be constantly aware of questionable content and sites

In the same vein, avoid questionable content while browsing the web. For example, websites hosting illegal or pornographic content may contain malware that could harm your computer. Also avoid downloading and installing free software unless you are sure that the source is safe. A free program with numerous positive reviews on prominent websites is probably safe to install. If you are unable to find any information online about a given program, avoid installing it and look for another program that performs the same function.

Even on trusted sites, it is questionable whether you should follow the browser option to store your passwords so you don’t have to type them in on each site. Browsers on I.E. 9 with Windows 7 has a security feature called “pinning.”

This is because it pins a site to the computer’s start menu so that cookies from other tabs can’t interact with a “pinned” site. The function opens a new instance of the browser in a safe mode. Consequently, no cookies, history, or add-ons can be loaded on.

Users too should forgo clicking on links in e-mails, even if they know the sender and the link seems reasonable. A phishing website is disguised to look like a major website such as PayPal, but it actually tricks people into giving up access to passwords and other data.

Misleading Mac Defender is virus posing as solution

Apple Mac machines have had a known virus called Mac Defender that exploited a specific area of the Safari browser. Mac users were being redirected from legitimate websites to fake sites telling them their computer was infected and that Mac Defender would remove the virus. But this software is in fact malware and its objective is to get the user’s credit card information for purchase of the fraudulent software. The most common names for this malware are Mac Defender, Mac Protector and Mac Security.

If Mac users opened the settings for Safari and clicked the general tab, they saw a box saying open “safe” files after downloading. But if that box was checked, and the virus was directed at the user, the virus would automatically open and be launched. That couldn’t happen, though, if the box was unchecked.

Computer users can operate in a safe mode when problems arise with their operating system. To activate the safe mode in I.E. for Windows 7, hit start and type in Internet Explorer. You won’t be in I.E. but in Microsoft Windows 10.

The newest version of Firefox has built-in security features such as URL filter, warning of potential malware or illegal sites or possible phishing. Chrome additionally has a built-in URL filter like Firefox and will warn of illegal sites or malware. The browser includes sandboxing and phishing protection.

The most vulnerable browser plug-ins are Java, Adobe Reader, QuickTime, Adobe Flash, and ShockWave, which are all built in to the browser, with different add-ons able to be downloaded. It is important for computer users to keep up to date because a number of older versions of the plug-ins are being exploited. However, different browsers have automatic updates and accept the latest changes to facilitate security.

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