Protect Your Computer Through Wise Browser Choices
To protect your computer online you will want to look to your porthole to the Internet-the web browser-to be one of your first lines of defense. Your web browser is the interface you use to read websites and navigate through the world wide web. By using a modern web browser, which is updated with the latest security patches, you can be reasonably sure that your computer is protected. Beyond having the right browser though, there are user habits that can help keep you safe online.
Protect Your Computer: Microsoft Internet Explorer
Many users of the Windows operating system are familiar with Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer, or IE, has the largest share of the browser market since it is the default browser on the majority of computers on the market. They currently hold 58% of the browser market. But their share is diminishing quickly. In three years their market share has dropped from 77%. Why is this? Why are people moving away from Internet Explorer?
Some of the explanation is that there are other good browser choices. However, savvy Internet users realize that there are serious security flaws associated with IE. While all browsers will have vulnerabilities from time to time, IE 8 currently has 62 known, unpatched security vulnerabilities.1 These have been outstanding for 2 years since the release of IE 8. Besides other versions of IE, no other browser has similar outstanding vulnerabilities.2
While IE 8 is better than previous versions of Internet Explorer, there is still much to be desired in the security realm. Because IE is so tightly integrated with the operating system, any vulnerability in the web browser should be considered a weakness in the security of the whole computer. One of the easiest ways to protect your computer is to stop using Internet Explorer.
Protect Your Computer: Mozilla Firefox
Many people are just learning about Firefox. But this browser is not new to the market. Mozilla Firefox has been around since 2002 (though they have had a couple of name changes since then). The strength of Firefox has been as an innovator in the browser market. They were one of the first browsers to introduce tabbed browsing and add-ons called extensions.
Originally Firefox was a minimalist browser which allowed the user to add only the functionality they wanted by way of extensions. The most popular extensions were rolled back into the browser when they knew the functions that most users were interested in.
This helped Firefox keep a close watch on the core features of the browser. They were able to make a web browser that was safe and conformed to established web standards. This makes Firefox one of the best choices you can make to protect your computer online.
Protect Your Computer: Google Chrome
In December 2008, Google rolled out their first stable release of Google Chrome. This new web browser by Google is even more minimalistic than the current versions of Firefox. On top of this, it is extremely fast and compliant with established web standards.
Google Chrome has automatic updates that make it impossible to be connected to the Internet with an old version of Chrome. As soon as a vulnerability is known in Chrome, the programming team works on a patch and it is propagated to all the users the next time their web browser is opened. This essentially cuts off any ability that malicious software has to control a person's computer through their browser for more than a couple of days at a time.
Google Chrome is currently the best choice of browser to protect your computer. Chrome does not work on all websites though. Any website that has been written to take advantage of some particular feature in Internet Explorer, Firefox or any other browser, may not work as expected when viewing in Chrome. This is not a problem with the browser, but a problem with the website developer for not writing their website according to accepted standards.
Protect Your Computer: Other Browsers
There are many other browsers on the market today. Two of the biggest alternate browsers are Safari and Opera. These browsers hold 6% and 2% of the market share respectively (December 2010 numbers).
Protect Your Computer: Browser Habits
Never click on pop-up windows. Always close them by way of the X provided by your operating system (in Mac, via the red close button). Do not use the "Close" button that the pop-up window provides. While it says "close," the person who wrote the evil software that is trying to get onto your computer can easily make that button mean "install." Do not trust them to be honest with you. If there is no way to close the window with the X button then typing Alt+F4 will close the program that is currently on top. This may close your browser too, but that is a small price to pay to avoid installing malicious software.
If, while browsing a website, you are asked to install software to use the site, you should seriously consider what you are about to do. There are legitimate websites that need helper software to function. Many times this is a video player such as Flash or Silverlight. But some websites will pop up with a window saying you need to install a program to view the video, but the link they provide is to a malicious website or download. If you have been using your computer for more than a couple of weeks, you probably already have Flash installed. The malicious pop-up window is trying to trick you into installing something other than what it says.
If you are not absolutely sure of what you are doing, you should make a note of the website address and close your browser. Ask a friend who knows more about online security to look at the site for you. It is never worth the risk of installing malware just to be able to view a video or read a website. You must think more about protecting your computer than watching a cute puppy video.
Legitimate software will not use pop-ups and spam tactics to alert you to installing something you supposedly need.
Be careful to not download any programs from untrusted, or uncertain sources. If there is a free program or a trial version of a program you want to try, you should look to a site like Download.com for a download. They are a trusted site. But, even with their good reputation, you should still always check any file that you download for viruses before opening the file just like you would any email attachment.
You have to take the responsibility to protect your computer. There are malicious people using websites and software to take over other people's machines. By using safer browsers and practicing safe browsing habits you can protect your computer from malicious attacks.