Web Browsers, Addons, Email & Security
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Web Browsers & Plugins
What is a Web Browser?
Next to email, web browsers (or simply "browsers") are probably the most-frequently used software on computers today.
- Browsers are primarily stand-alone programs that pull together content from multiple sources, including text, images and video.
- At one time most browsers were “suites” that included e-mail, chat, web design software and more.
- Today this is rare and most browsers use extensions and plugins to external programs to provide these functions.
Choosing a Browser
Your Choice Matters
Your choice in browsers matters. You don't have to use the one that came with your operating system (and there are many reasons not to). Have a look at What Browser? by Google —
World, meet your browser.
The web has become a serious security threat to users, particularly when using Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
- In addition to their own content, modern websites often import information from multiple external sources. This greatly increases your vulnerability to drive-by infections transmitted through your browser to your computer.
- Older browsers are unable to display modern websites as intended and put you at greater risk because they are no longer patched for newly-discovered vulnerabilities.
- If your operating system (e.g. Windows, Macintosh, Linux) is not capable of running current software, you need to upgrade.
Use a Current Web Browser
You should be running a current version of the web browser you prefer. Firefox, Opera, Safari, Chrome or Internet Explorer are the most commonly used.
Web Browser Security Considerations
Internet Explorer Requires Special Consideration
Internet Explorer is so tightly integrated into the Windows operating system that it cannot be evaluated like other browsers.
It is strongly recommended that users do not use Internet Explorer as their primary browser and to disable many of the features that make it “easy to use” (and therefore easy for unscrupulous sites to abuse).
- Internet Explorer is integrated with the Windows installer and can allow software to be quietly installed — without your permission or knowledge.
- While documentation may indicate that you need to use Internet Explorer to configure wireless devices or other software, this is no longer true.
- Firefox and other browsers are fully capable of doing so without subjecting your computer to unnecessary risk.
Disable or Remove .NET Framework Assistant in Firefox
Microsoft surreptitiously installed the .NET Framework Assistant addin to Mozilla Firefox using Windows Update. Websites can take advantage of this addin to quietly install software without the user's knowledge, making your computer more vulnerable to malware.
- It is strongly recommended that you remove or disable the .NET framework assistant in Firefox.
- If the Uninstall button is grayed out or unavailable, follow these instructions.
Learn more about web security and vulnerabilities of Internet software. ()
Web Browser Extensions & Plugins
Extensions are addons that add features to your browser that may or may not be related to existing software.
- Extensions often add features that have been removed to slim down browsers so that they run faster, but are still useful to some users.
- Extension give the end user control by allowing them to choose what features to add and sometimes options on how the browser operates.
Toolbars & Search Options
Toolbars can provide quick access to software and other features. However, they can also provide the vendors with your usage data and destroy your privacy.
- Most browsers have some sort of capacity for choosing your search engine tools without visiting a site.
- Each search engine provide a method for adding themselves to the search options for major browsers.
Plugins are software that is either designed as an addon to your browsing experience or a software attachment that allows an existing piece of software (like Adobe Reader) to work in a browser.
- Download commonly-used web browser plugins. ()
- You can test most plugins on the site where you download them.
- Adobe Shockwave player is no longer needed bband you should uninstall it.
Email (electronic mail) has become one of today's primary means of business and personal communication. Unlike voice (where you can only talk to someone when you're both available), email can allow for full communication at both user's convenience.
- Portable devices like smart phones and tablets now allow 24/7 access to email — even when we're away from our computers.
- You might want to review the information on this page to avoid potential security issues.
Use a Current Email Program
To avoid security concerns, use a current email program, updating the program as newer versions become available (and abandoning obsolete or unmaintained software):
- Download a current email program. ()
- Web-based email. ()
- Email for smart phones and tablets are usually restricted to the sites that support them.
Outlook Express Obsolete
Outlook Express is pre-installed in Windows XP. Unfortunately, many users continue to use it.
Webmail (mail based on an external server) is usually updated automatically for you. However, you should be aware of the following considerations:
- Most free web-based email sites now search your messages for key words to improve the effectiveness of the advertising they display. This means your email is no longer private.
- Be sure your passwords () are unique and difficult to discover. Because webmail is accessible anywhere, it is more vulnerable.
- Mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) are more vulnerable because people use keyboard patterns rather than secure passwords for convenience. These are easily exploited.
- Be wary of posting information on social media networks () like Facebook that can be used to discover passwords or provide clues to the "forgot your password" recovery mechanisms used by websites including webmail.
- When using unsecured public wireless access (such as in coffee shops and hotels), everything you send can be captured by other connected devices — including passwords and PIN numbers.
Make Email Safer
In addition to security issues, () you should change your usage practices to reflect these precautions:
- Do not forward mail as an attachment. More…
- Protect privacy by removing unnecessary information from messages you forward.
- Make sure you check email message and attachments for viruses and spyware using a current antivirus program. ()
- Be wary of viewing messages while you're online. If your program automatically downloads external images, these can be used by spamming robots to determine that your email account is active.
- Viewing messages in your browser can be dangerous. If the formatting doesn't display correctly in your email program, encourage the sender to provide safe, universal alternatives rather than wasting bandwidth on image-intensive messages.
Don't Forward Messages as Attachments
Don't automatically forward messages by attaching the original message as attachments:
- The practice of forwarding a message by attaching it to your outgoing message is partly used to avoid the untidy chevron brackets used when quoting a message inline.
- It isn't possible to edit attached messages either to add your comments or to remove extraneous content.
- Forwarding messages as an attachment gets people in the habit of opening attachments, a practice that can be dangerous (especially when file extensions are hidden — the Microsoft default).
One exception to this rule is when you're having problems with spam. Your ISP will want to see the entire problematic message in its original format, including headers. In this case attaching the original message is the easiest solution.
Forward Messages Inline
It is best to forward messages in-line (within the body of the message). This provides an easy way to quote selected text relative to each generation of the message conversation:
- Your message.
- > first generation quoted message.
- >> second generation quoted message.
- >>> third generation quoted message.
Some email programs use colour or other symbols to represent the respective generations of email conversations.
Protect People's Privacy
Don't be lazy. Edit forwarded messages to remove any unnecessary text:
- Be sure to remove any email addresses and other personal information about the sender from the message to protect their privacy — unless it is absolutely required by the recipient.
- Remove extraneous material when replying to a message. If you're responding to one line in a long message, the rest of the quoted material simply gets in the way.
In addition, use BCC: when sending to more than one person to hide your recipients' addresses from each other.
- Learn more about correctly using TO:, CC: & BCC: () when addressing email messages.
Problems Forwarding Messages?
Some messages may not format correctly when forwarded. You might want to consider how necessary it is to forward such messages. Instead, provide a direct link to a website with the information into the body of message (but don't obscure the link with hyperlinked text).
Beware of External Images
It is a good idea to take your email program "off-line" to view messages or use an email program that doesn't automatically download external images (those not contained in the message itself).
- It is common for spam to contain a very small (1 pixel x 1 pixel) uniquely-named external image (one that needs to be downloaded from the sender's server).
- The moment you open this type of message while on-line, you destroy your privacy by telling the sender that your address is valid and that you actually opened the message.
- Most current email programs disable the downloading of images by default to protect you from this risk.
Web Security Issues
Web security is not a new issue, but e-commerce has increased the necessity for improved security. Some browsers contain serious flaws which are further aggravated by security holes in the Windows operating system.
Risks Higher with Older Browsers
Newer browsers are designed for the content found on the web today (and the sorts of activities we wish to perform, including social media, banking and e-commerce).
- Newer browsers tend to not only add features, but to fix many of the vulnerabilities that plagued their earlier versions.
- Newer standards are opening up the web to make it easier and more interactive.
- When sites are forced to accommodate older browsers and their quirks, it holds back the development of an improved web experience for everyone.
- More about web security…. ()
Beware of Microsoft Interoperatability
Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office applications and many other Microsoft programs make sharing of data much easier but subject your computer and data to greater risk than when using software from independent vendors.
- Windows Update (Microsoft Update is built into the Control Panel in newer versions of Windows, but it should be installed in Windows XP to get updates for all Microsoft products).
- Microsoft Office Downloads has security and other updates for current versions of Office.
Make sure you regularly check for program updates and install them. This is you first line of defense against known security weaknesses.
Browser Security Information
Information is provided on known weaknesses of various web browsers in use. Sometimes you need to dig to find this information, but the competition may point out the flaws for you.
- See Security Weaknesses in Web Browsers for known issues. ()
- Windows users should also be aware of Weaknesses in Windows Security. ()
- Check the Microsoft Safety and Security Center for news about flaws.
As older browsers are no longer maintained, it is strongly recommended that immediately move to a current recommended browser. ()
Check for Other Security Issues
Check other Internet Security Issues because they affect your online experience. You'll also want to ensure your website or blog are secure and provide for a safe experience for your visitors.
Updated: June 5, 2012