7 Steps to a Safer Internet Browsing Experience
If you knew the real truth about how radically inadequate most websites are when it comes to providing a safe, secure browsing experience, you’d never turn your computer on again. Sure, we all have a vague awareness that there are all kinds of scams, viruses, malware, and ransomware lurking out there, like monsters in the dark. According to one independent testing organization (NSS), a full one-third of all internet users have fallen prey to socially-engineered malware. This means you clicked on something you shouldn’t have and now your machine is poisoned with malicious software. Over a recent three-year period, businesses lost $2.3 billion to phishing scams alone. Let’s learn how to stay safe out there.
You’ve Gotta Have a Secure Browser
As the main point of contact between you and the internet, the first thing you need to do is make sure your browser is as secure as possible. Various types of scams have become enough of an issue in recent years that any widely-used browser will have built-in protections, though some have more than others.
It might surprise you to know that Microsoft — long the laughing stock of the browser world — has finally produced an excellent browser known as Microsoft Edge, which scores in NSS testing as even more secure than Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, though the latter are still fine choices.
Consider Tightening Browser Security Settings
Maybe you didn’t know, but your browser comes pre-equipped with security settings that you can turn on or off to either reduce or increase your odds of system penetration by bad guys (or gals). With every turn of the screw, though, you make the browsing process a bit more cumbersome. For example, turning off the “autofill” feature means passwords and other personal data won’t be as easily uncovered by an attack. It also means you’ll have to type in this personal data each time. Turn off “cookies” for better privacy. Activate “block pop up windows.” These are just a few examples of simple, effective ways to begin the process of locking down your machine from intrusion.
You may notice a slower browsing experience as a result of changing these settings, but don’t automatically blame the settings. Slow website loading can also be a result of factors on the site itself and have nothing to do with your security settings. We’re talking about things like poor web host performance, too many images, too many scripts, etc. About the only thing you can do in instances like this is hope the webmaster wises up and realizes there is a problem.
Meet Your New Password Manager
We just told you to turn off “autofill” and now we’re suggesting you use a password manager. Isn’t that the same stupid thing? Not exactly. A password manager is a piece of software that allows you to create and store complex, ever-changing passwords for websites you regularly visit. Show of hands.
How many of you use the same simple password for way too many online services? Put your hands down. With a good password manager, you only have to remember one master password — to the manager itself. Good passwords are important. Keep reading.
Create Creative Passwords
Creating and remembering secure passwords is probably one of the most hated chores for internet users. Current recommendations say they should be at least 16 characters long and use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. You need to change passwords regularly, perhaps as often as every six months to stay secure. Now it should start to make more sense why you need a password manager. Not only will it remember and supply those ridiculously long sequences on demand, but it will probably add a layer of encryption and require two-step authentication any time you access it from a different device.
Go Invisible With a VPN
A safety-tuned browser and quality password manager are both a good start for safe online travels, but there is something else you can do. It’s called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). In layman’s terms, we’re talking about establishing an encrypted internet connection to protect your privacy even more. Public networks like those found at airports, coffee shops, and hotels leave you especially vulnerable to hackers. A VPN makes it harder for them to complete their dastardly deeds and also hides your IP address and location while you’re online. If you’re a fan of buying, selling, or investing in Bitcoin or other decentralized cryptocurrencies and seek total anonymity in these transactions, you won’t find it without VPN protection.
Look for the Lock While Surfing
Here’s an online security tip so simple you just might slap yourself if you’ve never heard about it. Have you ever noticed at the top of your browser, in the URL field where you type in a website address, that sometimes a site has an “https” rather than “http” and wondered what the heck is up with that? Actually, that extra “s,” when accompanied by a green padlock, is telling you something very important. When both are present, you can presume that data between you and the website is encrypted, the domain has been validated, and the owner is certified as legit. In short, you can trust this website.
The Ad-Blocker Debate
Advertising is the lifeblood of the internet. Unfortunately, malicious actors often pollute legitimate ads or even create completely bogus ones that infect your computer the moment you click. In response, we have the development of ad-blocking software, which performs exactly as advertised. It prevents ad scripts from loading so you never see an ad either good or bad. Obviously, websites who rely on ad revenue to operate hate ad-blocking. You, the consumer, is left in the middle to decide where you stand on this prickly issue. There is a middle ground, though. Only click on ads when you’re visiting one of those “locked and verified” sites we spoke of in the previous section.
The Bottom Line
Besides implementing the strategies just mentioned, perhaps your best bet for staying safe online is pray the future arrives soon. MIT scientists claim to have developed an AI-powered system that will eliminate 85% of possible cyber attacks. Though still in the testing phase, that’s impressive. Stay tuned.