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Browser hardening - stay safe online

7 min read

Technology’s constant development has made it progressively harder for us as users to maintain our online security and privacy. Over the last couple of decades a greater amount of breaches and information leaks has occurred, only making the entire situation more complicated. However, technology will continue to develop, meaning that we as users need to consequently adapt to the changes that it will undoubtedly bring. But what can we do to protect ourselves against the ever-looming threat of the large data-hunting companies that are constantly striving to improve their products by collecting, examining and making changes based on our data?

While there are a number of ways that you can use to limit the impact of these technologies when it comes to our everyday lives, we need to first turn towards the one thing that we use regularly to obtain any kind of information or visit any site - the browser. Most users will find it hard to believe but this is the initial point of contact for any hacker, who wants to steal away your data. Because of this, this is also one of the most vulnerable areas that exists, but many of us just disregard its privacy-breaching capabilities. However, you should not worry as there are some adjustments you can make that will help you stay much safer online. Taking actions to make your browser more secure is what is most commonly referred to as browser ‘hardening’ or ‘strengthening’ and by incorporating any additional safety measures on your behalf you can also protect your privacy in the long run. So without any further ado, let us dive right into this concept and the principles behind it.

What is browser hardening?

A term coined not that long ago, browser hardening refers to adjusting your Web browser’s settings in order to increase its security, which would also provide you with better privacy and personal data protection from hackers, eavesdroppers and potential snoopers that can be lurking around, waiting to collect it. They most commonly achieve this by taking over user sessions and collecting sensitive information such as banking details, personal data, usernames, passwords and accounts in general. This could lead to some very impactful, negative consequences and is exactly why the action of strengthening is what most users should consider implementing to stay safe online. The process of hardening in its own right can be used as a term to describe a plethora of different actions which you can undertake to make your preferred browser more secure and reliable. Here are some of the most prominent examples.

Remove any unused plugins

Plugins undoubtedly make life easier for everyone on the Web due to the fact that they can offer additional functionalities that some applications and websites cannot (and most commonly do so for absolutely free). However, there have been a number of instances in recent years where plugins were used to collect user data and log their input, which essentially breaches their privacy. Additionally, it is way easier for a hacker to gain access to your session through a plugin as it can act as a free gateway to your private data.

While we do understand that some plugins are essential for you, your business or company, you should definitely consider removing the ones that you do not use. Having deprecated or no longer supported plugins installed can severely increase the risk of a potential breach occurring and your personal information being stolen or at the very least collected and stored for other purposes. Due to this, we strongly advise you to go over your browser’s plugins and carefully and meticulously check whether they are being updated and if there have been reports of security issues in the past.

Ultimately, using as few browser plugins as possible would always be the recommended choice, however, we do realise that some extensions are an essential and irreplaceable part of your job especially if it involves research, meaning that avoiding to use them can substantially increase your workload. Just remember to always remove the ones you rarely use and install only those that are constantly monitored for security issues and updated accordingly to address them.

Keep your browser updated

Speaking of keeping things in check, it is integral and absolutely vital for you to have your browser up to date. Regardless of whether you are using Chrome, Mozilla, Edge, Safari or any of the other popular and widely-available ones, updates are rolled-out in order to help fix security issues as well (they are not designed only to enhance your browsing experience). Make sure to constantly check for any updates to your browser and immediately implement them as avoiding to do so can leave your information at risk of being left vulnerable.

Check your security settings

Regardless of the browser that you are using, you are capable of adjusting and tweaking its settings to make it more secure. There are many different things which you can implement in relation to its settings that can save you a lot of the hassle in terms of dealing with a potential privacy breach.

For starters, you can disable the automatic execution of JavaScript on any web pages that you visit. This will result in a confirmation message appearing, asking for your permission when trying to run a specific function. This will make it easier for you to spot whether a given function is malicious or not, ultimately allowing you to not run it at all, which will also prevent leaving yourself and your information exposed for any hackers to exploit.

Next up on the agenda is disabling your camera and microphone. While this is something that most browsers have begun to automatically implement, there are still cases where you would need to set this manually. It is absolutely important for you to remember to turn them off as they can both serve as an entry point for any eavesdroppers and snoopers, who are looking to get their hands on your personal data. Not to mention that they can also collect your speech and visual information, which can lead to fraud and most crucially - identity theft.

Finally, we want to touch on the topic of cookies. Cookies, in their purest encoded form, are a token of information that is used to establish communication between a returning user or visitor and a given website or web application. With regards to this, they do contain some information that can also be extracted by hackers, which can, again, leave you and your privacy - exposed. Most websites do require you to accept at least some of the cookies as they are necessary and required for the website or application to work properly. In these scenarios, try to limit the number of cookies that you are accepting to only the required ones and only do this for websites or applications that you are certain are legitimate and have strong security measures in place. In all other cases try to automatically make your browser reject all of the unnecessary cookies when you visit a website or app. You can do this by adjusting your settings. Ultimately, remember that limiting the information that is stored in, or provided by, your browser is key when performing proper hardening.

Are there any alternatives with solutions out of the box?

If you do not want to have to manually perform strengthening, you can always try using a browser that specifically focuses on protecting your privacy and being as secure as possible. One such example is Brave. It is similar to Chrome, however, it emphasises on providing users with a better overall protection of their data and personal information. It comes equipped with many different functionalities specifically designed to protect you at all times. However, this does not mean that you cannot make it even more secure. We would suggest giving it a try, along with performing the aforementioned security checks and implementations in order to be sure that you will constantly be protected while you are online.

Another solution is to use Firefox, but with hardened profile. You can use this tool created specially for this purpose: Firefox Profilemaker

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