Browser Security

After email the most common source of Malware infections is through your internet browser. So securing your browser is a great way to defend against Malware and protect your privacy. This is the first in a series of tips to help our readers protect themselves. This first tip will focus on general practices. Subsequent tips will focus on specific browsers. Even if you think your safe, or do not use one of the browsers written about, please read the entire series of tips as it may help you decide on which browser you use.

Without getting browser specific there are some things you can do to improve you privacy online. The biggest privacy leaks are search engines. Recently there has been allot of news about the NSA spying through Yahoo and Google. This is because nearly all of your internet activity can be captured through search engines. The first thing that happens when you arrive at the search engines website is they record your IP address. With the IP address they can determine the location of your computer. Since more than one computer can be at an address they also capture the header portion of the TCP packets to determine which machine in a home has come to their site. They then record all of your searches. They also record which sites you visit from clicks in the search results. The goal is that by cross referencing searches, clicks, geographical address and market research for the persons located at that address they can present ads targeted just for you.

Something to be very aware of is that this captured data is outside your browser history. Deleting your browser history, temp files and cookies will only protect your privacy from friends, family and your employer. However it does not protect you from law enforcement and marketing companies. The information is recorded at Google, Yahoo and other search engines.

There are several ways you can protect your privacy. First use your browser in privacy or anonymous settings. In Chrome this is called Incognito Mode. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar. Select New incognito window. A new window will open with the incognito icon in the corner. In Internet Explorer to open a Private Browsing window, you can either use the Ctrl+Shift+P shortcut key, or just use the Safety \ InPrivate Browsing item on the menu. In Firefox at the top of the Firefox window, click the Firefox button (Tools menu in Windows XP) and select Start Private Browsing. In Opera you create a private tab by selecting Tabs and Windows > New Private Tab from the menu. Alternatively, right-click the tab bar and select “New Private Tab” from the context menu.

Consider using a proxy service. A proxy service provides a server that acts as a middle man for requests from a computer to other servers and sites on the internet. Your computer connects to the proxy server, then it makes a request for information, like a web site or a file download. This makes all of the your internet traffic appear as though it originates from the proxy servers address instead of yours. There are several good free services available. Here are some of my favorites: getfoxyproxy.org, proxy4free.com, megaproxy.com and hidemyass.com.

To change your proxy settings in Internet Explorer click the Tools button, and then click Internet Options. Click the Connections tab, and then click LAN settings. Select the Use a proxy server for your LAN check box. In the Address box, type the address of the proxy server. In the Port box, type the port number.

In Chrome click menu on the browser toolbar. Select Settings. Click Show advanced settings. In the Network section, click Change proxy settings. This will open the Internet Properties dialog (Windows) or the Network dialog (Mac) where you can adjust your network settings.

In Opera go to Settings > Preferences > Advanced > Network, and click Proxy servers. Tick the checkboxes for the protocols you want to use a proxy for, and enter the proxy server hostname or IP address in the text field to the right of the protocol name (HTTP, HTTPS…). To the right of the protocols there is a box available for the port number.

In Firefox at the top of the Firefox window, click on the Firefox button and then select Options. Select the Advanced panel. Select the Network tab. In the Connection section, click Settings. Change your proxy settings.

Use an anonymous search engine. These types of search engines make no attempt to record your IP address, activity or use cookies. They do not collect any usage data. I use DuckDuckGo, Ixquick and StartPage. StartPage uses Google’s search engine, but acts as a middles man blocking Google from collecting any data on you. Ixquick is made by the same people who make StartPage. Ixquick pulls data from multiple sources not just Google. DuckDuckGo uses its own independent engine, and is completely private, not recording any data.

Another precaution you should take to protect your security is to disable third party flash cookies. Adobe Flash allows for cookies outside of browser cookies which can track activity. To disable this setting in Windows Vista or Windows 7 go to control panel, “System and Security”. If you are running Windows XP go to the control panel and set it to “Classic View”. In the Control Panel you should see the “Flash Player” icon. Click on the icon and under the Storage tab select “Block all sites from storing information on this computer”.

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6 thoughts on “Browser Security

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