Browsing the internet resembles an Alfred Hitchcock movie. You never quite see actions occurring at the edge of your vision. You feel safe until the miscreants show up like a flock of deranged birds.
While major browsers continue improving security, those efforts more resemble a chain-link fence than a brick wall.
Choose your browser carefully. Google’s Chrome may be the best designed and most popular, but it reports your activities back to Google. If you don’t set it up properly, others also might snoop on you.
Microsoft’s new Edge browser uses Chrome’s basic “engine,” but instead of sharing your browsing data with Google, it tattles to Microsoft. If you care about secure browsing, choose Firefox, Vivaldi or Opera. Apple users can select Safari, although it’s not quite up to the competition.
We all retain a soft spot for Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, but that should not carry over to the identifying bits of data called cookies that websites imbed in your computer.
Invisible cookies hide from view. No matter which browser you choose, go into the configuration menu and ban third-party cookies. These generally are cookies baked by websites different from the one you are visiting.
While eliminating third-party cookies in rare cases might reduce functionality of the site you’re visiting, they’re rarely essential.
The cookies from the site you’re visiting might be important for the functionality of that site while you are visiting it. But once you log off, those cookies should be trashed. Most browsers allow you to make “mission critical” exceptions for online banking and similar secure sites that need to identify you.
First, escape the 900-pound gorilla called Google (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft’s Bing). Use DuckDuckGo for your search engine (duckduckgo.com). It does not track you or send your browsing data to a third party. I have used this search engine for years and never missed Google.
Here are some free extensions that work on most internet browsers that will enhance your privacy and security.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a highly reputable nonprofit dedicated to protecting the privacy of those who use the internet, offers Privacy Badger that blocks tracking you online (privacybadger.org).
Another gift from the EFF is: HTTPS Everywhere. You must download this through your browser’s extensions menu. Many sites on the web offer some limited support for encryption over HTTPS but make it difficult to use. For instance, they may default to unencrypted HTTP, or fill encrypted pages with links that go back to the unencrypted site. The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems by rewriting all requests to these sites to HTTPS.
For those cookies that do sneak through your defensive block, install Cookie AutoDelete. It purges cookies every time you close your browser. You can (and should) make exceptions in its inclusion/exclusion menu for cookies you wish to keep.
Finally, install uBlock Origin (ublockorigin.com). This extension keeps updated lists of ad servers and nefarious content servers on the internet and either blocks them or warns you not to visit those sites.
While no extension can fully protect you from internet vertigo, these extensions can significantly increase your safety and security. Just remember rule one of email and the internet: Never click on a link until you are absolutely, positively sure that it came from someone you trust and that it actually came from that person or organization.
Your automatic response to links should be to email the person or organization from the address in your address book (don’t just hit reply) and ask if they just sent a link to you and where they found the content of the link if it’s not an original photo, MP3 or document. Just because Jane Doe, who is your best friend, sent you a link, doesn’t mean Jane is the actual sender.
As President Reagan said in paraphrasing the old Russian proverb: “Trust, but verify.”