Marianne Plays With Computers

My Digital Adventures

The Little Browser Hack That Helps Me Browse Safer — August 11, 2015

The Little Browser Hack That Helps Me Browse Safer

Although malware often needs to trick users into installing or running it, there are still drive-by downloads that can hurt your computer when you merely browse to an infected site. It may not even be a malicious site. Legitimate web sites have been defaced with malware. Even the advertising that keeps so much of the internet free can get you.

There’s a little trick you can do, though, that will keep you safer without being much more than a blip in your browsing. I read about this little browser tweak a few months ago, instantly implemented it, and haven’t regretted it a bit. You just prevent plugins from running in your browser unless you explicitly allow it.

In Chrome, click the menu (three vertical lines on the right-hand side of the toolbar) and select “Settings.” Scroll all the way down and click “Show advanced settings…” Under “Privacy,” click “Content settings…” Scroll down to the “Plugins” section and select “Let me choose when to run plugin content.” Click the “Done” button at the bottom.

Firefox has taken a different approach. The good news is that in newer versions of the browser many plugins no longer run by default. It will also warn you if the plugin is outdated or known to be vulnerable. However, if you want to review your configured actions, click the menu and select “Options.” Select “Applications” on the left. You can then scroll through the list of content types and review the action performed for each. One of the possible actions is “Always Ask,” which should give you functionality similar to Chrome’s.

Many web-based threats exploit plugins in your browser in order to do bad things. By taking control of the plugins, you can plug this hole in your system. It may result in a few seconds of inconvenience while browsing, but I think the safety you gain is worth it. Plus, there’s a bonus – no more obnoxious auto-play flash ads!

Browser Wars — July 13, 2015

Browser Wars

In the 80s we had the cola wars. Then in the 90s, we had the the browser wars, and, if anything, people are even more passionate about their choice of browser than their beverage of choice. Sometimes you want a Coke, sometimes a Pepsi, and sometimes a Dr. Pepper. Sometimes, you may even crave a Pineapple Fanta. But lots of people, including me, are never going back to Internet Explorer.

W3Schools.com has browser usage statistics going back to 2002, when our choices were limited to Internet Explorer, Netscape, and (talk about a blast from the past) AOL. In those days, IE was the 800-lb. gorilla, with over 80% market share. Since then, however, usage has dwindled and now hovers in the single-digit range. I think AOL went broke sending people free CDs, but as broadband proliferated, plenty of other contenders entered the arena.

AOL disks from 1999 - 2003 for versions 4.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0, and 9.0. Thanks AOL for getting America online! via photopin (license)
AOL disks from 1999 – 2003 for versions 4.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0, and 9.0. Thanks AOL for getting America online! via photopin (license)

Today, the relatively new Chrome browser dominates. Mozilla’s Firefox is a distant second, and IEApple’s Safari (which is also available for Windows), and Opera round out the top five.

So which one to choose? Many Windows users just stick with IE, which comes conveniently pre-installed. Likewise, many Mac users see no reason to use anything other than Safari. Others, however, only use IE (or Safari) long enough to download their browser of choice.

Why? I’m a diehard Windows user (unless there is a Linux distro nearby), so I’m going to primarily talk about IE here. (Sorry, Mac fans.) IE has an unfortunate reputation of being bloated, insecure, and lagging in standards compliance. Microsoft has been doing a better job lately of making IE play nice with the rest of the web, but even they recognize that IE’s noteriety is hard to overcome. Windows 10, available later this month, will include a new browser called Microsoft Edge.

Firefox, and more lately Chrome, on the other hand, have reputations of being faster, more secure, and more customizable. They had features like tabs, plugins, and anonymous browsing long before IE did. But then every once in a while you get a bombshell like this one about Chrome sending your conversations back to Google.

So which should you choose? I say, pick the one that you like the best. Seriously. The most important thing you can do to have a safe browsing experience is to keep it updated. Set it to automatically update. If your browser tells you there is a new version available and asks if you want to install it, say yes. (After making sure it’s not just a scammy popup or something, of course. Go to the browser’s homepage or another trusted source rather than clicking on any links.) Some antivirus products will help you stay on top of this, too.

As long as you practice safe browsing, any modern browser will get you where you want to go.