The humble internet browser. Dutifully taking you the places you want to go online, whether that’s the bank, the store, the movies, or even to work. All the more reason to make sure your browser gets every last bit of protection it can.
It’s easy to fire up your browser without a second thought. Arguably, it’s one of the first things many of us do when we hop on our computers. And because it’s often our literal window into important tasks like managing our finances, making payments, and so forth, hackers will absolutely target browsers in order to conduct their attacks. Whether it’s through vulnerabilities in the code that runs the browser, injecting malicious code into a browser session or any one of several other attack vectors, hackers will try to find a way to compromise computers via the browser.
What’s one of the best ways to keep your browser safe? In a word, update. By updating your browser, you’ll get the latest in features and functionality in addition to security fixes that can keep you safer out there.
Let’s take a closer look at what a safer browser is all about, how to update yours, and check out some additional things you can do to stay safer still.
Browser hacks go way back—and are here to stay
Just as long as there have been browsers, there have been security vulnerabilities and issues. Among the first documented cases, one of the most noteworthy goes back to 1995 when researchers at the University of California, Berkeley uncovered a security issue with the way the Netscape browser handled online payments. Today, news of potential browser exploits and follow-on security measures to remedy them still make the headlines all across several types of popular browsers.
The reality of the issue is that browsers, humble as they may seem to us, are complex applications made up of myriad smaller applications to handle all manner of tasks that create your overall web browsing experience. And where there’s code, there’s room for error. Errors that hackers will look to exploit until an update comes along and fixes them.
Browser plug-ins and extensions add extra features—and potential risks
Adding further functionality to your browser, and potentially further opportunities for hackers, are browser plug-ins and extensions. These are small apps that give your browser additional capabilities, like opening and editing documents, blocking ads, finding coupons, and even playing tabletop role-playing games in a browser as well. In short, there are thousands of them, often available in the various stores run by different browser developers.
Likewise, browser plug-ins and extensions can be prone to security issues just like the browser they’re installed in. Errors in their code may lead to exploits that hackers can take advantage of. Further, not all plug-ins and extensions are safe and secure to use. It’s not uncommon for malicious ones to turn up on third-party sites that steal user information, introduce malware, or that end up serving ads on a person’s computer, just to name a few of the nasty things they can do. Even official browser stores have had malicious plug-ins and extensions slip onto their shelves.
Lastly, even seemingly legitimate plug-ins and extensions can introduce privacy issues. Given that they’re on your browser and have been granted permissions to work with it, they could be collecting data—data which the developer may use, share, or resell. And it may be tough to know exactly what’s being collected and what’s being done with it. Yet like many smartphone app stores, browser stores are including links to developer privacy statements on the download page for the plug-ins and extensions they offer, giving people more insight into how their data is used. However, sometimes plug-ins and extensions get sold from one company to another where they not only change owners but privacy policies as well. In other words, that plug-in or extension on your computer may get sold to another company without your knowledge and subsequently decide to use your data in an entirely new way.
Given this landscape, there’s a clear case for updating your browser regularly, along with your plug-ins and extensions as well. Moreover, you might want to take a look at what plug-ins and extensions you’re running as well to ensure they’re secure and that they’re something you actually have use for.
Let’s take a look at how you can do all that.
So, do you keep your browser and extensions up to date?
Set up your browser to update automatically. This is relatively straightforward, and browser developers have pages that show you how it’s done. For example, sampling a few of the browsers out there:
As for updating your extensions, the browser developers have put together quick guides to help you what that too. The good news is that when you update your browser, your browser typically updates its associated plug-ins and extensions as well. However, note that your browser’s update cycle may not be in sync with the update cycle for your various plug-ins and extensions, so you may want to go in and update them on their own. These guides can help:
<h2>Take a look at your browser extensions—and see if you want them in the first place
What extensions am I even running? Now that’s a great question. And it’s not too tough to get the answer. In short, your browser’s menu will have an option that will give you an overview of what you have installed and which ones are enabled for use. Once more, each browser developer has their own way of going about this:
This is a good opportunity to give your extensions a hard look. Are they something you use? Are they something you want? Who developed that extension? What might they be doing with my data? Answering these questions may take a little work on your part—like searching for news, information, or reviews about the various extensions you have installed. If you don’t like what your research turns up, you can simply uninstall the extension in question.
A good general rule is this—the fewer apps and extensions you have, the fewer you have to update. Likewise, that’s ultimately fewer lines of code that may turn up a possible exploit. If it’s something you’re not using, consider getting rid of it.
<h2>Make your browser safer with web protection
Many browser-based attacks find their way to you through sketchy websites and downloads. Even ads that look legit but are not. As said before, hackers will try and find a way. One tool you can use to beat them at their game is browser protection, which helps prevent you from making that one wrong click that leads to malware.
In our case, we offer McAfee WebAdvisor, a lightweight app that helps keep you safe from threats while you browse and search the web. Specifically, it includes three types of protection that can help steer you clear of those sketchy websites and downloads.
It’s a free download, and it’s also included with our comprehensive online protection software. Either way, this provides you with yet another line of defense when it comes to browser-based attacks.
Protect your browser from hacks and attacks. Update.
That’s the big reason to update right there. Updates give you one more way to prevent attacks by fixing known security issues. It’s true for your operating systems, your apps, your games, what have you. All of them rely on sometimes complex code, code which can sprout exploits, ones that hackers will use. Count your browser in that mix as well. Updating your browser, plus its plug-ins and extensions will help keep you safer online.