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Evaluating Web Browser Security Settings

By University Alliance
Evaluating Web Browser Security Settings

Web browsers are our windows to the Internet and are at the core of the Internet experience. Even if you are not actively browsing the Internet, you may be using a browser to access a software application. This being the case, your web browser holds a high position of importance in the overall security of your system. If the security settings of your browser are too low, your browser and any dependent applications may be susceptible to viruses or computer hackers. In order to ensure that your data remains as secure as possible, it is important to understand and adjust the security settings of the web browsers you use.

Where to Find Your Security Settings

Menu options tend to vary from browser to browser, so you may find different words or phrases than those used in this article. In essence, what you are looking for is the Tools or Preferences menu of your browser, and then the tab or area that indicates Security or Privacy. If you are having difficulty finding these settings, try searching your browser’s help menu or your favorite Internet search engine. Take some time to explore the preferences of your browser of choice before making any security changes.

Some browsers, such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, include predefined security levels that you can select. While this may simplify the process, it also prevents the fine-tuning that may be necessary to get some of your favorite websites to load properly. In other browsers, you may see individual settings that can be enabled or disabled to suit your needs.

Which Security Settings Should You Use?

Setting the web browser to the highest security settings possible may limit the functionality of your browser and your favorite websites. Instead, try starting with the highest security settings and then lowering the level slightly when a site appears to have issues. This may involve a bit of trial and error, but it should allow you to operate with the highest practical security level for your web browsing preferences.

Relevant Terminology  

Again, terminology is usually dependent upon the browser that you use. While the reason for some settings may be unclear at first, with practice you should be able to identify the comparable terms and settings of your chosen browser.

  • Zones - A zone is a type of group that can be configured to have specific security settings. For example, your browser may allow you to use different settings for Internet sites and intranet sites. While Internet settings should be as high as is realistically possible, intranet settings can generally be set at lower levels. Be advised, however, that even in an intranet environment, it would likely not be a good idea to disable security settings entirely, as any virus that managed to infect the system would have open access to other networked computers through the browsers.
  • Trusted Sites - Trusted sites are a category of websites that you believe pose a minimal security risk. Obviously, this setting should only be used for websites that you trust and use regularly. While this category can be useful for companies that rely on a handful of secure websites, for the casual user it should probably be limited to websites that you manage yourself.
  • Restricted Sites - Restricted sites are the opposite of trusted sites. While the best practice for suspicious websites is to avoid them entirely, in some cases you may have a need to visit them. In such cases, defining websites as “restricted” allows you to specify higher security settings for that specific website than you would normally use.

You may encounter other terms than those listed here, but browser settings all generally tend to focus on user specification of sites that are trustworthy, untrustworthy or somewhere in between. If you wish to avoid labeling specific websites, you should likely browse with settings on the higher side.

Category: Cybersecurity & Information Assurance