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Web browsers have come a long way since the days of Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer in the 1990s. Today’s major browsers – Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox and Opera – support everything from deeply integrated payment services (e.g., Apple Pay) to advanced web equivalents of Office apps. They are also available on multiple desktop and mobile platforms, allowing for synchronization of tabs, bookmarks and histories.
Moreover, they are safer than their predecessors. During the mid-2000s, the numerous flaws in Internet Explorer 6 made it nearly unusable for many common browsing tasks. Today’s browsers are better designed, although they are not completely impervious to exploitation. Here are some best practices to follow to stay safe online:
1. Check for HTTPS
Is your connection to the website you’re on secure? The best way to see is by checking the URL bar to see if the addresses starts with “https” instead of the standard “http.” A padlock icon and/or a green bar with the name of the site owner may also be featured.
HTTPS is a secure protocol that encrypts data exchanges between websites and their end users, making it harder for prying eyes to see what you are doing. Mozilla reported that in January 2017, encrypted connections accounted for the majority of all web traffic for the first time, according to WIRED.
2. Be careful with shortened links
Vanity link shorteners such as bit.ly and goo.gl were once popular as a space-saving techniques on platforms like Twitter. They carry risks, though, since you cannot immediately see where they lead.
Truncated URLs have been used in several scams. For example, a goo.gl address was central to a phishing campaign that pointed victims to a malware-laced ZIP file. Be careful with these links; use a link expander like Where Does This Link Go? or take advantage of Force Touch/3D Touch on an Apple device to get an inline preview.
3. Keep everything updated
Outdated software is a bonanza for cyber criminals, who can exploit known weaknesses to deliver malware. Web browsers are uniquely exposed to such dangers because these also host plugins and extensions (e.g., Adobe Flash Player) that themselves can easily become outdated and thus vulnerable.
“It’s a good idea to turn on automatic updates for programs such as Flash.”
In addition to updating your browser to the latest version, it’s a good idea to turn on automatic updates for programs such as Flash. The underlying operating system should also be kept updated, especially if it and the browser are made by separate vendors (some built-in browsers, like Safari, update automatically as part of the OS).
4. Make use of the browser’s security settings and capabilities
All browsers have a control panel containing privacy and security settings. Many of these settings can make a big difference in how you experience the web, as they might determine:
- Whether you see pop-up windows and autoplay videos.
- Which sites you are allowed to visit.
- What plugins are active.
- If the site’s TLS/SSL certificate is valid.
It is a good idea to enable all such protections by default. Additional browser extensions that block intrusive ads may be useful as another layer of defense.
Beyond these four steps, you can improve your safety online with Unlimited Internet Security from Total Defense for proactive protection from threats. Visit our product page to learn more about your options.