January article Securing Your Web Browser 


1. Why Secure Your Web Browser?

Today, web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari (to name a few), are installed on almost all computers. Because web browsers are used so frequently, it is vital to configure them securely. Often, the web browser that comes with an operating system is not set up in a secure default configuration. Not securing your web browser can lead quickly to a variety of computer problems caused by anything from spyware being installed without your knowledge to intruders taking control of your computer.


Ideally, computer users should evaluate the risks from the software they use. Many computers are sold with software already loaded. Whether installed by a computer manufacturer, operating system maker, Internet Service Provider, or by a retail store, the first step in assessing the vulnerability of your computer is to find out what software is installed and how one program will interact with another. Unfortunately, it is not practical for most people to perform this level of analysis.


There is an increasing threat from software attacks that take advantage of vulnerable web browsers. We have observed a trend whereby new software vulnerabilities are exploited and directed at web browsers through use of compromised or malicious web sites.


This problem is made worse by a number of factors, including the following:

  • Many users have a tendency to click on links without considering the risks of their actions

  • Web page addresses can be disguised or take you to an unexpected site.

  • Many web browsers are configured to provide increased functionality at the cost of decreased security.

  • New security vulnerabilities may have been discovered since the software was configured and packaged by the manufacturer.

  • Computer systems and software packages may be bundled with additional software, which increases the number of vulnerabilities that may be attacked.

  • Third-party software may not have a mechanism for receiving security updates.

  • Many web sites require that users enable certain features or install more software, putting the computer at additional risk.

  • Many users do not know how to configure their web browsers securely.

  • Many users are unwilling to enable or disable functionality as required to secure their web browser.

As a result, exploiting vulnerabilities in web browsers has become a popular way for attackers to compromise computer systems. 


II. Web Browser Features and Risks


It is important to understand the functionality and features of the web browser you use. Enabling some web browser features may lower security. Often, vendors will enable features by default to improve the computing experience, but these features may end up increasing the risk to the computer.


Attackers focus on exploiting client-side systems (your computer) through various vulnerabilities. They use these vulnerabilities to take control of your computer, steal your information, destroy your files, and use your computer to attack other computers. A low-cost way attackers do this is by exploiting vulnerabilities in web browsers. An attacker can create a malicious web page that will install Trojan software or spyware that will steal your information. Rather than actively targeting and attacking vulnerable systems, a malicious web site can passively compromise systems as the site is visited. A malicious HTML document can also be emailed to victims. In these cases, the act of opening the email or attachment can compromise the system.


III. What should I do?  


The best solution is prevention.  Follow some very basic common sense ideas;

  • Don't click on links in emails if you do not know the sender. 

  • Do not be fooled by attempts to get you to visit a web address from links forwarded by what appears to be a friend.  Spammers user real names but bogus email addresses to trick you. 

  • When you download updates, programs or coupons, read all the information on the screen and pay attention to any check box, either filled or not.  Do you want or not want what is being offered. 

If you find you have a problem with your browser, call The Solution Centre  and schedule an appointment. We will take care of it.  

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