Eight tips for safer web browser surfing

Published: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Whenever you use your web browser, you run the risk of virus infection and data theft.

Even legitimate sites can harbor hidden dangers. Here are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your computer:

Keep your software updated

People often skip software updates, but they’re critical to maintaining your computer’s health. If you don’t install them, you run a much greater risk of infection. Your system software and antivirus are not the only programs that require updates; viruses frequently sneak onto your computer through old versions of Adobe Reader, Flash and Microsoft Office.

Use privacy settings

All modern web browsers have built-in privacy settings, but you need to activate and monitor them. If you’re not using the current version of your Web browser, you should install the latest immediately. Outdated web browsers are a primary source of attack.

Set up parental controls

While your kids aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong, sites geared for them often are riddled with malware. If you use your computer’s parental control features to prevent your kids from accessing sites you don’t want them to visit, you also will help keep viruses at bay.

Clear your cache

Clearing your browser cache (usually done in the program’s preferences) will increase your computer’s speed. It also gets rid of tracking cookies and some targeted ads. It’s like starting your meal on a clean table, although you might have to re-enter information for sites you often visit.

Don’t save your passwords

It seems convenient to save your passwords, but if a hacker breaches your browser, you could lose access to everything. Instead of relying on your browser’s security, or lack thereof, use a secure password tool such as KeePass or 1Password.

Try an alternate browser

It’s a good idea to keep your general surfing and social media use separate from your banking and email. Some Web browsers offer a “sandboxing” capability that opens sites in an isolated environment. You can accomplish something similar by using one web browser for surfing and a different one for banking. Options include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

Use privacy and security plug-ins

Site verification tools such as McAfee SiteAdvisor and ad-blockers such as AdBlock can help safeguard your computer. Your antivirus program might offer additional protections.

Think before you click

Not every site is as innocuous as it seems. As I mentioned, even legitimate websites can harbor adware and viruses. Others are malicious lookalike mimics. When searching online, study the results. You’d be surprised how many links lead to malicious sites. When in doubt, you always should type the address manually into your browser rather than searching for it or clicking on an email link.

By following some basic safety precautions, you can keep problems with viruses and data theft to a minimum. I’ll post some related links on my Tech Tips blog to help you secure your web browser on PC and Mac.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog (www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips) offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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