Web Browser's Flaws Pose Security Threats. Take Necessary Precautions To Ensure Your Online Safety

To surf the web, most people use web browser. From traditional desktop PCs to mobile devices and wearables, as well as self-driving cars, web browsers are the things that are generating buzz and constantly improvised and reinvented.

By reflecting how people browse the web, their habits and trends, tech companies are trying to create the best web browser while competing with others alike. They're trying to add features that aren't yet available, adding new technologies, voice-recognition, video calling, plugins, extensions, better syncing capabilities across devices, and others.

The browser industry may have appeared to be dominated by tech giants such as Google with Chrome, Microsoft with Internet Explorer and Edge, Apple with Safari, Mozilla with Firefox, and Opera. While some succeed and have better market share than others, it doesn't mean that they're foolproof and perfect.

Behind the scene, tech giants to small startups continue to enhance their web browsers in the many ways they can. All just to make them better and better.

No matter how large and experienced the tech companies are, or how good they are in creating a web browser, they're still depending on their respective communities to enhance the browser. By opening themselves up to addons and apps, they're allowing third-party developers to create more features on top of the original.

While web browsers continue to enhance themselves, there are still flaws yet to be patched in each and every versions introduced. Therefore, early precautions are necessary. Below are the common tips to secure your web browsers from unwanted attackers.

Internet Security

Why Securing Your Web Browsers

Modern web browsers are installed in practically any devices that have the ability to connect to the internet. Because web browsers are used so frequently, it's very important to secure them properly.

Occasionally, web browsers that come with an operating system aren't yet configured with safety as their priority. Not securing your web browser can lead to many problems, ranging from spyware being installed to intruders taking total control of your computer.

Ideally, every internet users should evaluate the risks from any software they use. Whether if the software came bundled with the computer manufacturer, operating system installed, internet service provider, retail store, or installed afterwards. The first step to ensure your security is to find out all the programs and apps installed, and how they interact with each other and the overall system.

As the internet is used more than often in the modern society, there is an increasing number of threats that are lurking. Many of them are targeting your web browsers. Vulnerabilities are being exploited through the use of malicious websites and codes. Things just get worse by a number of factors, including:

  • Many users have the tendencies to click on links without considering the risks of their actions.
  • Web page addresses can be disguised.
  • Websites can be disguised as legitimate sites or web locations that contain malicious content.
  • Many web browsers are pre-configured to provide better functionality at the cost of security.
  • Manufactures are often late is discovering new security vulnerabilities.
  • Operating systems and software packages are often bundled with other software, increasing the risk of vulnerabilities.
  • All apps and software have their own flaws. If not patched, it will just a matter of time for them to be exploited.
  • Many websites require their users to enable certain features or install more software, putting the computer at additional risk.
  • There is always the chance that programs and applications downloaded and installed can't receive security patches.
  • Many users do not know how to configure their web browsers properly.
  • Many users are unwilling to enable or disable functionality as required to secure their system.

As the result of the above, even the most updated web browser can be exploited and compromised.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way of knowing how each of them works. Even if there is an easy way around, it's often impractical and require deep level of analysis.

Keep Your Browser Updated

Web browsers periodically release updates that patch weaknesses, add features or enhancements. If you have a favorite web browser, it is best to keep automatic updates enabled.

If you're using a web browser frequently, never use it if it's outdated. For example, never use old versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Apple's Safari browser for Windows.

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox are two most popular alternatives, and they leave automatic updates enabled. If you want to use Internet Explorer at its current version, install Windows Updates and keep them checking automatically. Microsoft Edge can also be your choice if you're using Windows 10.

Although the newer version of a web browser can be flawed, but it's usually packed with a number of improvements above its predecessor, putting a lot more effort for attackers to compromise it.

Further reading: Never Let Old Web Browsers Hold Your Internet Experience Back

Enable Click-to-Play And Security Plugins

Most web browsers load Flash and other plugin contents as soon as you open a web page. This can pose risks because some attackers can exploit flaws on a web browser when the content is automatically played in the background.

Enabling "click-to-play" plugins won't just make your web browser load pages faster, but also put a higher benefit in terms of security. And also because the video/animated content is not loaded when a page finishes loading, you have time to consider whether to load it or not.

By allowing only the contents you want to be played, you have a good chance to evict any potential attacks that are lurking on the web.

The next is to install security plugins. While most plugins are safe and some are harmful, some can actually help you bolster your browser's security. Some of them are HTTPS Everywhere which is a project by The Electric Frontier Foundation and The Tor Project, Web of Trust (WOT) to help you determine if a website is safe to surf, and LongURL to check shortened links.

Uninstall or Disable Plugins to Make Your Browser More Secure. Keep Them Updated

More means better? Not always. The more things you have, the more effort you have to provide to maintain them. Since no products are perfect, the more plugins and extensions are running in the background will open more holes for attackers to exploit.

Attackers can seek plugins weaknesses and enter your system without you knowing.

Browser plugins are the biggest target on your computer, and by turning them off, or just uninstalling them, you can secure yourself from plugin weaknesses fast and easily.

You may want to have some plugins enabled. Sort which of them you really need and dispose the rest. Most people don't actually use all of their installed plugins all the time. Uninstall them, or just disable them.

Plugins such as Microsoft's Silverlight is becoming less necessary and is no longer needed. Flash plugin is still needed, but it's becoming less necessary as more websites are abandoning Flash for their contents.

Beside plugins, there is also a number of features that are important for a web browser to operate. Some of them are: ActiveX which is a software component or an add-on of Windows operating systems and it comes already installed if you have Internet Explorer, Java which is a programming language developed to create applications on computers or active content on a website, JavaScript which is a programming language that makes web pages interactive and is used mainly for displaying dynamic content, and Cookies which are data stored on your browser and hold some amount of information about your browsing history.

While you remove the plugins you don't need, it's always necessary to keep the enabled ones updated. Any plugins you do need should automatically update themselves

Ensuring that all of your enabled plugins are updated automatically and regularly will ensure you a better web experience and safety.

Clear Browsing History And Cookies

As more time passes and the more you use your web browser to surf the web, the more it stores things. The reason for it to do such thing is to allow you to easily access those web pages, enhancing your web browsing experience. As a downside, the stored things can pose harm if exposed or leaked.

Your web browser stores you browsing history, and that include each and every web page you visit, as well as their dates and times. Most modern websites use cookies to give them the ability to provide the best they have. Cookies on the other hand store information about your sessions, personalization and more.

Periodically clear and delete these stored data can make your browser run faster, and will make you a margin safer.

Limit Browser Extensions

Browser extensions are pieces of codes that run in your web browser. The good thing is that they can do practically anything, making your experience in browsing a lot better. The bad thing is that they can also do malicious things.

Browser extensions are indeed useful and can be powerful to customize your web experience. But some are potentially dangerous. Like for example rogue extensions could insert malware through advertisements shown on the web pages you see. They can also do more dangerous tasks such as capturing keystrokes, tracking your browsing activity and some other things.

If you do need those extensions, use as few of them as possible. This will ensure your safety and a better performing web browser.

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With all the capabilities and features web browsers have under their sleeves, they are indeed prone to attacks. While modern web browsers themselves are already good enough to negate most if not all attacks, many of online threats actually come from users' weaknesses in allowing the attacks to commence. These attacks won't just compromise the browser itself, but the system as a whole is at risk.

There are many tools you can use to help you secure your web experience, and that include using:

  • Firewall, anti-spyware, anti-malware, antivirus software and other security-related products to ensure a safe experience.
  • Pop-up blocker to limit/eliminate unwanted ads.
  • Backup software to recover from disasters and any software-related issues.
  • Utility program to clean unwanted files (temporary internet files or cookies) among others.

Securing your browser’s software is just one part. For your part, it's not over. In fact, it will never be. You should always avoid phishing sites and potentially dangerous places on the web. Many websites out there are trying to trick any wandering visitors to download junkware instead of the software you're looking. Even if they do allow you to download the legitimate one, they can be bundled with potentially dangerous software that can compromise your system.

You should also learn more things about the current trends and technology advances. Not in a technical way, but in practical way that you can at least understand how your computer's/device's security works.