Know Your Browser, Related Risks and Keep It Secure!

browsers-iconsWhat is Internet Browser or Web Browser?

As stated in Wikipedia – “A web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web”.

In simple language

“An internet browser or simply browser is a program which is used to access the internet and view web pages of different websites containing texts, images, reports, charts, polls and so on.” Some of the common examples of internet browser include – Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Saferi, Opera, AOL Explorer etc.

Why to Secure Web Browser?

WhyToday, web browsers are installed on almost every computer and since it is used frequently, it is vital that you configure it securely. Often browsers that come along with operating system is not set up in a secure default configuration which can lead into variety of computer problems anything from spyware invasion to browser hijacker that takes entire control of your web browser. Ideally, computer users should evaluate any software before installing and using it on their PC, but practically most people do not perform this level of analysis and become easy prey of malware.

Recent studies have highlighted the fact of increasing threat from the software attacks that take the advantage of vulnerable web browsers. Vulnerabilities in the new software were exploited and are directed to the web browsers by the use of compromised and malicious web sites. In fact there are number of factors that worse the conditions further. Some of them are mentioned below –

  • Tendency to click on any link without considering the risk associated with it.
  • Web page addresses where disguised so that they can easily be redirected to malicious websites.
  •  Web browsers are configured to provide more functionality compromising in the area of their security.
  • Software packages come bundled with additional software, browser help objects, toolbar and other useless stuffs that increase the number of vulnerabilities that attack the system.
  • Many third party software’s may not have the mechanism to receive the security updates, so they fail to deal with the evolving security issues.
  • Some software requires user to enable its certain features and functionalities putting the computer at additional risk and open to vulnerabilities.
  • Several people don’t know how to configure their web browsers securely.

It’s all because of these above mentioned points; exploiting vulnerabilities of web browsers have become popular among attackers to compromise computer systems.

Risks Associated with Web Browser’s Features!

riskIt is very important to know the web browser features and functionalities that you use. Enabling some of them may increase your productivity but at the same time lower its security as well. So, some of the web browser features and its associated risks are described below –

  • ActiveX – It is a technology used by Microsoft Internet Explorer to utilize any Microsoft application or some part of it. A web page can use ActiveX components that already reside in the Windows system or provide component as a downloadable object. Even though this gives extra functionality to the traditional way of web browsing but also open it up for severe vulnerabilities.
  • Java – As we all know it is a programming language that can easily used to develop active contents for web sites. JVM (Java Virtual Machine) is used during the process that executes Java code or ‘applet’ provided by the web site. Even though Java applets are OS independent and usually execute within a ‘sandbox’, but its various implementations contain vulnerabilities that allow an applet to bypass these restrictions and infect PC.
  • Cookies – These are small files that are placed on your computer system to store data specific to web sites. Cookies are designed to be readable only by the websites that have created it. Some cookies are destroyed when the browser is closed know as session cookies while some remain in the computer until the specific date of expiration is reached called persistent cookie. Some cookies are used to identify unique visitors of a site while some may be used for authentication. If attackers get to know about any such cookie then they can easily gain access to your web site by obtaining that cookie. So, persistent cookies are higher risk than the session ones.
  • Plug-ins – These are applications intended to use in the browsers. They are very much like ActiveX controls of Microsoft but cannot be used outside the web browser. Plug-ins often contain programming flaws like buffer overflows, that can bring browser vulnerabilities.
  • Scripting Languages – Scripting languages like JavaScript or VBScript are often used with browsers to add extra functionality and interactivity to the web pages, but this same capability can be abused by the attackers. Default configuration for web browsers often enables this scripting support which can introduce multiple vulnerabilities for the web browser.

How to Secure Web Browser?

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Often you install more than one web browser in your computer along with other applications such as email clients or document viewers that may use different web browsers apart from what you normally use. If you are using one browser to surf internet and interact with different websites, that doesn’t mean that other applications will use the same browser. So, it is important that you securely configure each browser that is installed in your computer. In order to secure your browser follow some of the basic things as mentioned below –

  • Frequently update your web browser, as doing so will move or change most of its features and options.
  • Also enable automatic software update for your system if available.
  • Install and use an antivirus or anti-spyware software and update it on a regular basis as well.
  • Avoid unsafe behavior on internet like clicking unknown links on similar.
  • Follow the least privilege option and don’t enable it if you don’t need it.
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