If you go mountain biking down a steep hill, on a windy trail which is a healthy mix of mud, bumps and rocks, do you wear a helmet, or not bother? You don the headgear, of course (if you’ve got an ounce of sense – something you most certainly won't have if your bare head has bounced off a boulder after you took a corner just a little too fast).
By the same token, when you surf there are little safety aids you can employ to ensure the experience is less dangerous. Not that web surfing really compares to mountain biking, but you get the general idea. Anyhow, here we’ve got six tips on how to surf more safely… read on, and stay cautious out there on the wide old web.
Look for the lock
If you're going to send personal information via a website, you want to make sure the site encrypts that traffic. Look for the https (notice the "s") in the URL, and a green lock icon in the address bar. Don't send any info – such as a credit card number – unless the site is encrypted. However, even the bad guys can run an encrypted site. Just because it's secure doesn't mean you can trust it, so as ever, use your best judgement and common sense.
There are many browser plug-ins you can get these days that vet websites, so when you do a Google search, dodgy sites are marked in red, and (what should be) safe ones are green. If you buy an Internet security suite, that’s likely to have some form of browser protection built-in, or you can download a free suite such as Avast (which comes with the Avast Online Security plug-in). While these are very useful tools, they’re not infallible, so again you should use your common sense if you’re not sure about the look or sound of a website.
Eat your cookies
In the past, cookies caused plenty of worries. Now, however, they're usually harmless – without them, you'd be entering a lot more passwords on sites you visit all the time. However, regular checks by your antivirus software will clean out the ones you don't want tracking your surfing. So run regular scans with your security suite – that’s something you should get into the habit of doing anyway.
Turn off Java
These days, Java is a favourite attack vector for hackers, and as a result to maintain the maximum level of security in your browser, it’s a good idea to turn it off (unless you have a good reason to keep it on, of course). For more detail on the whys and wherefores of ditching Java, see our guide to disabling Java.
Use an alternative browser
This is one option that won’t be for everyone, but you could steer away from the major browser players – Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. While even IE does a good job on the security front these days (in the past it was weak), these browsers tend to be subject to the most attacks simply because they are the most popular (with a large, juicy target user base). You could try Opera as a well tried-and-tested alternative, or even a purpose-built secure browser like Comodo Dragon Internet Browser (Comodo is a security software firm, incidentally).
If you are using Internet Explorer, you can avoid some potential exploits by turning off ActiveX controls, the technology that lets the browser automatically run software components. Go to Tools, Internet Options, Security tab, then click the Custom level button. Scroll down the Security Settings list until you see ActiveX controls and plug-ins. Under here, set the appropriate ActiveX entries to Disable (particularly “Run ActiveX Controls and Plug-ins”).