Secure Your Web Browser From the Bad Guys

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Google Chrome's website malware warning

Web browsers and their plug-ins are the main target for thieves who want access to your computer. Attackers craft web pages, malicious advertisements and other nasty stuff to exploit security holes in whatever browser you’re using to view the Internet. To protect yourself, keep your browser secure. The usual simple steps to secure your PC help secure your browser, too.

Uninstall or Disable the Java Plug-in

Cisco’s 2014 Annual Security Report found Java was the primary cause of 91 percent of attacks. Java has proven to be a security risk time and time again. If you have it installed, it’s the most vulnerable part of your browser.

The vast majority of websites don’t use Java, so you shouldn’t need it installed unless you’re using some specialty application. Head to the Windows Control Panel and uninstall Java. If you’re not sure whether you need Java, try uninstalling it. You’ll be asked to reinstall it if you need it.

If you need to keep Java installed, at least open the Configure Java application from your Start screen or Start menu, and disable the Java plugin by unchecking the “Enable Java content in the browser” checkbox under the Security tab. Minecraft is the only big, popular application that uses Java, but it doesn’t need the Java browser plug-in.

Disable the Java browser plug-in on Windows 8.1

Keep Your Plug-ins Updated

Java isn’t the only target. Adobe’s Flash plug-in and Adobe Reader PDF viewer have also been frequent targets.

Visit Mozilla’s Plugin Check site to give your browser a quick check-up. This tool works for all browsers and will tell you if you’re using an old, out-of-date, insecure plug-in. Download and install the most recent version of the plug-in if you are. Modern versions of Flash, Adobe Reader and other plug-ins configure themselves to update automatically.

If you have other plug-ins you don’t need — for example, an old version of the RealPlayer plug-in for playing the RealVideo content that’s vanished from the Web — uninstall them from the Control Panel.

Update Your Browser Automatically

Modern browsers should update themselves automatically, so don’t disable this option! Internet Explorer updates via Windows Update. Firefox updates via Mozilla Update — click “Menu|Options|Advanced|Update” to check this setting. Google Chrome updates automatically in the background via Google Update. Safari for Windows is old and no longer developed by Apple, so uninstall it and choose a different browser.

Use the latest version of Internet Explorer if you’re using Microsoft’s Web browser. The modern Internet Explorer 11 browser is available for Windows 7, and Windows 8 users can get IE 11 by grabbing the free Windows 8.1 update from the Windows Store app.

If you’re still using Windows Vista or even Windows XP, you can’t get the latest version of Internet Explorer. Switch to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox instead.

Option to automatically install Firefox updates

Trim Your Extensions

Browser extensions can also be a problem. Adware companies have purchased extensions in the Chrome Web Store, modified them and pushed out automatic updates that add advertisements, tracking code and other junk to every Web page you visit. Malicious extensions could also snoop on your passwords, credit card numbers and other information you share on web pages.

Only install browser extensions you trust. For example, an official Pinterest browser extension should be fine, but an unofficial Pinterest extension with two users is a bit more suspicious. Use your best judgement, just as you do when installing programs on your computer or apps on your phone.

To reduce the risk, head to your browser’s extensions or add-ons page uninstall extensions you don’t use. This is a good idea, anyway — uninstalling extensions will make your Web browser faster.

Image Credit: Google, Oracle, Mozilla

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