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18 Jan 12 Compute: Choosing a browser? Security matters, too





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Think of your browser as your window into Internet web pages and applications. Which browser should you choose, and what security measures should you take to protect your view?

The most popular browsers are Microsoft’s Windows Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Foxfire. Internet Explorer — preinstalled on all Windows machines — dominates with 40 percent of all users. But Chrome is coming on strong, according to StatCounter, a global web analytics company. It reports that among those browsers’ latest versions, Chrome 15 edged past Internet Explorer 8 during November’s final week, taking 23.6 percent of the worldwide market compared with IE’s 23.5 percent.

People primarily try out a new browser for appearance and ease of use, but security should be a concern, too. Choosing the right one can help you surf more safely, particularly when the browser’s code is written to block functions typically exploited by virus and spyware writers.

Look for these security features:

Sandboxing. If you use tabs instead of opening another window every time you visit a new site, sandboxing isolates each tab from the rest of your system. If one tab gets infected, crashes or runs a piece of harmful code, simply closing the affected tab kills the process and leaves the other tabs — and all parts of the system — untouched. Internet Explorer and Chrome use sandboxing; Firefox does not.

Plug-in security. Plug-ins are the small applications that run within your browser to enhance functionality, customize the user interface or let you play games. One of the most popular plug-ins is “AdBlock” (http://adblockplus.org/en/), which blocks annoying website ads, leaving only the content. From a hacker’s point of view, finding vulnerability in a plug-in is easier than attacking the whole browser. Each browser differs in the amount of access it allows plug-in on your system. Chrome is the only one that doesn’t allow plug-ins to install software or run scripts without user interaction.

Just-in-time (JIT) hardening. Viewing a static page on the Internet isn’t a security risk, but many websites let users do stuff, from calculating mortgage payments to playing games or creating a spreadsheet. But if you allow a website to run code on your machine and stumble upon an infected website, BAM! Suddenly you’re hosting Season 7 of “Entourage” for Internet pirates in Denmark. While Chrome and Internet Explorer block this type of malicious code from running, Firefox does not.

Firefox lovers, don’t despair. With good anti-virus and anti-spyware protection and a little effort, you can make your browser safer than the default configuration. Firefox offers a plug-in called “HTTPS Everywhere” (www.eff.org/https-everywhere) that will let you browse over 1,000 websites securely. Https encrypts the website pages you see so that passwords, emails and other data you send and receive can’t be easily recreated by a hacker via the browser you’re using. Ironically, the security settings in Chrome and Internet Explorer block this plug-in.

Ultimately, your online activities will have far more impact on your safety than the browser you choose. Using Chrome isn’t going to make much difference if you install programs from untrusted sources or download content of questionable origin. However, in the wild west of the World Wide Web, why not do everything possible to be safe?

For more tips on which side to pick in the browser wars, drop me a note.

(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)

Article source: http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/66777

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