For most people, the web browser is central to what you do on your computer. Companies are increasingly putting more and more services on the web and are encouraging their customers online. Securing your web browser is a vital part of surfing the web safely and keeping your computer free of viruses, spyware and other threats.
Most people own a computer which runs Microsoft Windows XP or other variants of the Windows operating system. This means that by default most people use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and therefore hackers focus their efforts on finding vulnerabilities in this program.
The most important step you can take to securing your web browser is to make sure that the version you are using is the most current version and has all the latest patches or updates installed. Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in the software to steal personal information and take control of your computer. Make sure that automatic updates are switched on and that you immediately install any updates you are prompted to download.
Given the well documented issues with Internet Explorer it is worth considering an alternative browser like Mozilla Firefox or the Opera Desktop Browser. You will still need Internet Explorer for some sites, however due to the increased popularity of the Firefox browser most sites now work with both Internet Explorer and Firefox as standard. Both alternatives pack some impressive features liked tabbed browsing which Microsoft is only just catching up on. Switching browser does not mean that you are 100% secure but there is currently a much reduced likelihood of being impacted by security issues.
Regardless of what web browser you use a lot of information about your surfing habits is stored on your computer. Common items include the URLs or web pages you visit, files which have been downloaded, “Cookie” files which websites put on your computer and parts of the web pages you have viewed. It is therefore good practice to scrub this information on a regular basis. You can do this manually through your browser’s Options menu or use a free software tool like CCleaner which is highly recommended.
The good news is that the computer security industry is developing some great new products and services to help you protect yourself online. There appears to be an increasing emphasis on developing tools which help prevent your computer being infected in the first place.
A good example of this is a web browser plug-in called “SiteAdvisor” which was recently bought by McAfee.
SiteAdvisor gives each website it visits a red, yellow or green rating based on various tests it carries out. These ratings then conveniently appear next to search results in Google and other search engines. This helps users determine whether a website is safe to visit. Anti-spyware tools like Webroot’s Spy Sweeper and PC Tools’ Spyware Doctor also include sophisticated active protection features as standard.