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Guidry: Protect your window to the Internet

Your Web browser is your window on the Internet.

From it, you access everything from your bank accounts to email, Facebook, online stores and more. This makes your browser both a liability and a line of defense in protecting your computer’s security.

Common browsers include Internet Explorer and Safari – the defaults for Windows and Mac – as well as independent apps such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera. Nearly everyone uses them, so they are a primary method for introducing viruses onto your computer.

They also make excellent siphons for hacking into your accounts and stealing private information.

You may think a hacker won’t target you, a lone consumer on a single computer or tablet. But the moment you connect to the Internet, you can be open to massive hack attempts that may succeed merely if you have vulnerable software in your system.

If the vulnerable software is your Web browser, then everything you access through the browser also is vulnerable.

To minimize your risks, you should use the latest browser version, including all updates. If your computer can’t run the latest version, you then have limited options. Your best bet is to plan an upgrade. Your computer can’t be protected adequately from viruses if it can’t run the latest version of your computer’s default browser.

Internet Explorer and Safari are built into Windows and Mac, and both browsers effectively are part of the system software. Even if you never run them, they still can be used as a gateway for viruses.

Plug-ins or extensions provide additional functionality, such as watching videos, on browsers. These plug-ins also need to stay updated. Adobe Flash particularly has become such a target for virus-writers that the industry is pushing to replace it with other standards like HTML5. If you want to uninstall Flash, you can find instructions on Adobe’s site. But like your default browser, Flash is built into some systems and may not be removable.

An easy way to minimize risks is to use a different browser for your bank accounts than for social media and general Web surfing. You also can use ad-blocking software, which will not only reduce the number of ads you see, but protect you from malware disguised as ads. Malicious, third-party ads are a major problem even on otherwise legitimate and safe websites.

Your browser’s “Do Not Track” feature can help stop sites from tracking your browsing habits. Do Not Track, however, neither stops computer viruses nor does it block ads. All it does is tell sites you don’t want to participate in their advertising analytics.

With a little maintenance, your Web browser can help prevent viruses and other computer problems before they start. Don’t forget also to check your default security settings, as we discussed in my previous column.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her blog, www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips, offers computer help and social media advice. Reach her at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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