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Last Updated: 29-Oct-2013
Information Technology Services
Information Technology Services: Safe Web Surfing

Suggestions for Safer Web Surfing

Consider changing your web browser.

Because Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) comes installed on Microsoft Windows, most people use it. And because most people use it, IE is targeted most often by those with malicious intent.

A few alternatives:

Keep Your Web Browsers Up To Date

No matter what web browsers you use, it is important to keep them up to date. As security flaws are discovered, the web browser companies release updates to fix them.

Keeping Internet Explorer up to date is simple - automatic updates for Windows include updates for Internet Explorer.

Firefox can be set to automatically download and install updates, or notify you that updates are available. Click on Tools, Options and then on Advanced.
Firefox Advance Options screen

Block Pop-Ups

Pop-ups are those small windows that pop open without you requesting them. Most often they are advertisements... and the extremely annoying. Most modern web browsers come configured to block pop-ups by default.

If you need to allow pop-ups from a particular site , you can add it to the browsers exception list:

In Internet Explorer: Click Tools. Pop-up Blocker and Pop-up Blocker Settings. You can then enter the name of the site you want to allow pop-ups from.

In Firefox: Click Tools then Options, and on the Content screen click the Exceptions button and add the site you want to allow.

Enable Phishing Filters

Both Firefox and Internet Explorer now come with phishing filters. By default, the phishing filter in Firefox IS turned on, in Internet Explorer it is NOT turned on.

To turn on the phishing filter in Internet Explorer, Click Tools, Phishing Filter and select Turn on Automatic Website Checking...

Firefox warning iconWhen Firefox encounters a suspicious website a warning screen will come up tell you the site is either a "Reported Web Forgery!" or a "Reported Attack Site!"

Like Firefox, Internet Explorer also blocks you from attempting to visit a known phishing site, by displaying a red warning page. If a site is only a suspected phishing site, a yellow warning will be displayed.

Entering personal information on forms

Only enter personal information on a secure, trusted site. A secure site is one that displays the little closed padlock icon padlock icon and an "https" instead of "http" at the beginning of the web site address (URL). Secure sites encrypt the information you type before sending it over the internet, preventing those with malicious intent from intercepting your sensitive information along the way.

Unfortunately, even the lock symbol can be faked. If your web browser is up-to-date, Firefox and Internet Explorer will both warn you if the security certificate for a site is suspect with a message like "There is a problem with this website's security certificate", and make you choose whether to continue to the site or leave.

Even if you follow all these guidelines, you have to accept that there is some level of risk. We hear about companies loosing customer's sensitive information all the time. Unfortunately, no one can ever be immune to this.

Saving Passwords and Form Information

Most web browsers will offer to save login and password information so that you don't have to type them in again next time you visit a site. While this is convenient, it is a huge security risk. You should never allow a web browser (or any other program) save passwords or personal information. If your computer gets hacked or infected with malware all that information will be exposed. Or if you should do this on a public computer, anyone else using that computer will have access to your information.

Browsers can be set so they won't retain this information.

In Firefox click on Tools, Options and then on Privacy. At the bottom of the Options window under Privacy Data, choose one of options to clear private data.
Firefox Privacy Options
Then click on the Settings... button to set which private information will be cleared.
Firefox private data selections

In Internet Explorer, click Tools, choose Internet Options and select the Content tab. Click the Settings button under AutoComplete. Uncheck the box that says Forms.
Internet Explorer Autocomplete screen

Browser Caches

The default setting in Internet Explorer prevents you from viewing the most recent versions of the web pages you browse. This is because older versions are stored in your browser's cache to "help" make the page load faster. You can change this setting by clicking Tools then Internet Options and click the General tab. Click the Settings button under Browsing History and then under Check for newer versions of stored pages, select the first option, Every visit to the page.

You can also do what is referred to as a "hard refresh" to make sure you are seeing the most current version of a page. In Internet Explorer, hold down the Ctrl key and click the refresh button in your browser. In Firefox/Netscape, hold down the Shift key while clicking the refresh button in your browser.


Javascript is generally used to add interactivity to web sites and is heavily used on the web. While turning off JavaScript makes your web browsing more secure, it may make it less enjoyable. But if you want to disable javascript in Firefox, click the Tools, Options and click on Content. Uncheck the box labeled Enable JavaScript.

Do you really need it?

Don't load non-essential programs off the Internet, especially things like toolbars or search bars, screensavers, or audio or video programs. These programs frequently install additional, malicious software ("malware") that causes problems and often requires a system rebuild.

Don't click on anything in a pop-up, except the X in the upper right corner to close it.

Clicking on any buttons/links in the window like "No, thank you" or "Close Window" often triggers an unwanted installation.

Never click on unsolicited links

Don't click on any links that you received in email, instant messages, Web forums or chat rooms - it might install malware.


More about Protecting Your Computer and Yourself Online


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Check this out too...
More information about staying safe on the web can be found on the Protecting Your Computer and Yourself Online page.
Type, don't Click!
Let's say you get an e-mail message that appears to be from your mortgage company telling you that your monthly payment is late. It contains what appears to be a link to the mortgage company's web site. Instead of clicking that link, open your web browser and manually type in the mortgage company's web site address, or use a bookmark that you have already saved. Make sure that the site is secure (remember to look for the closed padlock, and for https in the address bar), then log in and check your account status.
Firefox Add-Ons
Firefox has a number of very useful add-ons to help protect you while surfing. One of Adblocker Plus iconthese is Adblock Plus. This add-on blocks all those annoying ads & banners on webpages.

NoScript iconAnother add-on you might want to consider is NoScript which allows you to choose which sites you want to allow scripting from.
Firefox/IE Add-Ons
McAfee safe site indicatorMcAfee SiteAdvisor is another helpful free add-on for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. SiteAdvisor displays safety ratings about the siteMcAfee siteadvisor serach safety indicators you're visiting and when you search using popular search engines, SiteAdvisor's safety results appear next to search results to help you decide if you should visit a sit or not. Mousing over or clicking on a rating will show you why a site has a particular rating.
Report Security Incidents
Report stolen devices (laptops, PDAs, etc) and suspected computer break-ins to ITS immediately. The sooner we know about an incident, the sooner we can respond, potentially limiting any damage.
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