Security Tips for Common Browsers

It's important to make sure you configure your web browsers to protect your privacy, protect yourself from identity theft and make it harder for worms and viruses to infect your computer.

Configuring your web browser won't on its own provide you with full security. But it's the first step to creating a more secure home or business computer.

The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) says that since web browsers are used so often, a non-secured web browser can cause many computer problems including the installation of spyware (without your knowledge) or a third party taking control of your computer.

The institute, which is a research and development center at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Carnegie Mellon University, says the threat from software attacks taking advantage of vulnerable browsers is becoming more common. (The SEI was also involved in coordinating communication among experts during security emergencies to prevent the Morris worm incident in November 1998 which caused 10 percent of Internet systems to fail.)

More Ways Web Browser Security is Compromised

There are a variety of ways browser security can be compromised.

· A significant amount of users are unwilling to affect the functionality of their web browsers by enabling or disabling certain features.

· The tendency of many users willingness to click through random links without considering why those links are there, where the links will take them and if there's any risk to their computers' security by clicking those links.

· More web page addresses are being disguised as something you may want to visit. Or certain URLs are taking surfers to an unexpected site.

· The bundling of software packages and computer systems.

Secure Internet Explorer

SEI does not recommend removal of this browser that's integrated into the MS Word operating system. "Removal is not practical," the institute says. But there are a variety of steps you can take to reduce the number of vulnerabilities this browser can make your computer susceptible to.

Choose Tools from the menu and then Internet Options. The SEI recommends that the security zone level should be set to High. This may cause some inconvenience because the high setting will disable features like active scripting, java and ActiveX, but they will make your browser more secure. To change the setting, slide the controller to High from the Default level under the Security Tab.

In the Internet Options window is also a Privacy tab. Override automatic cookie handling under the advanced button. It's possible that you'll get too many prompts when you try to visit a site. To reduce this, you can enable "Always allow session cookies." This will allow temporary cookies to be downloaded to your computer which have less a risk than persistent cookies.

Under the Advanced Tab, disable third party browser extensions. Some are helpful, like the Air Miles Tool bar. But some are also a way to monitor what you browse for online and when.

Protect yourself from domain name spoofing by choosing "Always show encoded addresses" under the Advanced Tab. Domain name spoofing can make phishing ads more convincing by sending you to a site that looks like the one you want but isn't.

Secure FireFox

Complete the same steps in Firefox as you did for Internet Explorer. Adjustments can be made by going under the Tools heading and selecting Options. Under the Security icon click "Warn me when sites try to install add-ons."

Disable Java under Content. Regularly press the "Clear private data" feature under Tools. Or press CTRL+Shift+Delete.

Secure Apple Safari

All browser security settings can be change under Preferences. Deselect autofill options. Under General, deselect the option to "Open safe files after downloading."

Under Security, select "Block pop-up windows" and "only accept cookies from sites you navigate to."

One Final Tip

The best way to make sure your browsers are secure is to update them. Always keep the latest browser software running on your computer.


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You can protect your computer from viruses without expensive software. Instead, follow these simple tips:

Stay up-to-date on all system updates.

Don't download any email attachments you weren't expecting.

Avoid freeware and peer-to-peer sharing sites.

Use alternative web browsers and email software.