Things Everyone Should Know About Web Browsers
Web Browsers are among the most frequently used programs in the home or business environments. We use them to access websites, check our web-based e-mail, run applications for work, and so on. Since web browsers are frequently accessing the Internet, they are great targets for hackers who seek to discover and exploit any flaw in the browser that can be used to hijack the browser and spread viruses and malware, or gain access to computers for other purposes. On the other hand, it’s not always the browser that gets exploited; it’s us, the users.
That is the reason for writing this article, to help you benefit from their web browsers without exposing their computers to security risks, or at least provide you with enough information for you to make informed decisions about the way you use your web browser.
What is a Web browser?
A web browser is a program used for viewing web pages or web-based content over the internet or intranet, or even a local computer. Web browsers, also known as just browsers, translate content written in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or PHP (PHP: Hypertext Processor), and us to view web pages, images, video, and use web-based applications and games.
The Top Five Most Popular Web Browsers Today Are:
Mozilla Firefox – Firefox is a free and open source browser developed by Mozilla, and is currently the 2nd most popular browser.
Opera - Opera is a web browser and Internet suite developed by Opera Software with over 200 million users worldwide.
Safari – Safari is a feature rich browser with versions for Mac and Windows, and is considered by many to be the fastest mainstream web browser on the open market.
Google Chrome – Offers excellent security and privacy in a clean interface.
Microsoft Internet Explorer – This is the default browser that comes built into the Windows Operating System.
How Does a Web Browser Work?
Browsers work by communicating over network connections either to the Internet to the World Wide Web or an Intranet or local network or computer. I’ll save the technical details for another article, suffice it to say that communication over a network is handled through standardized communication protocols, the most common being the TCP/IP (Transmission Communication Protocol over Internet Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol) protocols.
When you type a website URL (Uniform resource Locater) address, such as www.obrienpc.net into the address bar of your browser, the address is translated from the name obrienpc.net to the numerical IP address 184.108.40.206 through a Domain Name Server (DNS), and the request is then routed through various servers until it reaches the server that stores my website, which in turn, either accepts or denies your request to access information from my website. This is done through the TCP/IP protocol, using port 80.
Encrypted or Non-Encrypted Browsing
Port 80 is the standard port used to communicate with most websites throughout the world, and it is a port that is considered unsecured and is open to virtually any network transmission. A simple way to tell if your web browser is using port 80 is by the address displayed in the address bar. If you see HTTP, then your web browser is transmitting through port 80.The point to be made about port 80 is that neither are secure. Traffic over port 80 can be sniffed out.
HTTPS uses port 443, which offers the ability to encrypt data transmissions. This is why banks, online stores, and other services where you might need to transmit sensitive data use HTTPS. If you see HTTPS in the address bar of your web browser, then you are probably using encryption to secure your data transmission over the web. The standard of encryption used today is 128 bit encryption, which is pretty darn strong, nearly impossible to crack. Most browsers also show an icon such as a padlock in the status bar to indicate that you are transmitting over a secure port. You should look for this anytime you are transmitting any financial or sensitive information over the Internet. you should also make sure that your browser is using 128 bit encryption.
Addons, Extensions, and Tool Bars
In theory, add-ons, extensions, and toolbars are supposed to enhance the functionality of our web browsers and make our browsing experience more convenient. In practice however, add-ons, extensions, and toolbars are also used to track your browsing habits, feed ads to your monitor, or allow malware to be covertly downloaded into your computer.
Now, I am not saying that add-ons, extensions, and toolbars are all bad, but you should use caution before using them. I use a few extensions in my browsers to enhance my research and browsing capabilities. I am careful to research extensions or add-ons that catch my interest before I install them. The easiest way to do that is simply to use your favorite search engine and see what other users are saying about it, and what security warnings (if any) are out there.
Myself, I don’t trust toolbars. While they may add convenient access to search engines or other enhancements, they more often track your browsing habits and report that information somewhere else. Not to mention, they chew up system resources. This is not true for all tool bars, so again, do a little research. It can save you a lot of pain.
You should also be careful about installing toolbars that are bundled in with other software. Many freeware programs that you download from other websites include these toolbars in their software packages because they are paid to do so by marketing firms, and they are often set up by default to install automatically. If you suddenly see toolbars appear in your browser that you did not intend to install, get rid of it by uninstalling it.
Some add-ons are good to have. For example, most antivirus applications will install an add-on to your browser to help prevent viruses of malware from covertly being installed on your computer. Some firewall programs do the same thing.
Keeping Your Browser Up-To-Date
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, hackers love to exploit security flaws in web browsers. It is for this reason that you should keep your web browser up to date. Fortunately, updating your web browser is essentially an easy and straight-forward process, and takes just a couple minutes to do. In fact, some web browsers are configured by default to automatically look for updates and inform you when updates are available. Either way, make it part of your routine to check for updates once or twice a month. You can either go the support website for your browser, or in some cases, your web browser will have an update option in the menu options.
How do you know what version of your web browser you are using? If you go into the menu system of your web browser, say for example, Internet Explorer, you would click on the Help menu, and then click on About Internet Explorer, and then you will see what version you are currently using.