Imagine using your computer for a week without double-clicking your web browser. Impossible, right? Most of us use our browsers on a daily basis, so make sure you know how to keep your personal information hidden from prying eyes while you’re online.
Whatever web browser you’re using right now, it’s a sad fact that there are hackers out there looking to exploit vulnerabilities in the software. Web browsers are updated all the time to make them safer, but hackers can still trick you into clicking a dodgy download link.
Keep scrolling for advice on how to stay secure online, or sign up for Which? Computing for more jargon-free advice.
Which? Tech Support – our experts will help you tame your tech
Every web browser is a target
If you’re exploring the Which? website on your computer, there’s a good chance you’re doing so using the pre-installed web browser your device arrived with.
This explains the popularity of the best-known web browsers – we’re talking about Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Alternatively, you may have downloaded a third-party browser, such as Brave, Mozilla Firefox or Tor.
These web browsers all offer similar built-in security features but, if used incorrectly, you could expose your personal information to hackers.
Staying secure online: our top tips
1. Keep your web browser updated
Criminals exploit bugs every chance they get. To keep your device secure, make sure you’re running the latest version of your go-to web browser. Browsers are updated to fix dozens of bugs every month, with some considered serious enough to be software emergencies.
To check if the browser on your PC is up to date, follow these steps:
- On Google Chome At the top right-hand corner of your screen, click More (three dots), then Help, then About Google Chrome.
- On Apple Safari At the top left-hand corner of your screen, click the Apple logo. Select App Store, then the Updates tab.
- On Microsoft Edge At the top right-hand corner of your screen, click More (three dots), then Help & feedback, then About Microsoft Edge.
But although updating is a must if you’re serious about security, it’s not foolproof. In fact, around one in 20 users are still sticking with Internet Explorer, even though it has been superseded by Microsoft’s new Edge browser.
If you’re one of those people, you might want to consider choosing a modern browser receiving security updates.
2. Be wary of malicious extensions
Downloaded from official markets such as the Google Chrome Web Store, extensions are essentially optional upgrades, with a few offering security protections not available in the browsers themselves.
But be careful – web browser extensions can generate problems of their own, starting with the need to update them if they become vulnerable to a bug. We’ve also seen cases in the past where criminals have been able to sneak malicious extensions on to official markets disguised as legitimate tools.
Although browser makers claim they vet extensions, harmful apps can slip through undetected. Every time you download a browser extension, you’re giving that app permission to access certain information on your PC. Harmful extensions can steal private data and redirect you to scam websites without you knowing.
Downloading a web browser extension is safe as long as you check which permissions the extension wants access to. Ask yourself if the permissions make sense – a calculator extension, for example, shouldn’t ask to log your credit card information.
Get into the habit of checking user reviews before you click download, but make sure you know how to spot a fake review.
3. Trust Which? Best Buy antivirus software
Having a reliable antivirus program running in the background while you browse will give you some peace of mind. We’ve tested free and paid-for antivirus software packages from big-name brands, including Avast, AVG, McAfee and Norton.
To make sure you’re treated to effective protection against malware, we test every antivirus software package for the features that matter the most. We consider how the antivirus will help you avoid scams, how easy it is to set up and whether or not it will slow down your computer.
The best antivirus software package we’ve tested excelled in our security tests, sniffing out viruses without trouble. However, our lowest-scoring antivirus struggled to defend well against data-grabbing malware.
To see which antivirus software packages have scored top marks in the Which? test lab, head over to our Best Buy antivirus software page.
4. Think before you click
Some adverts will try and convince you that your PC is infected and the only way to resolve the issue is to download their own software.
Take a look at the fake advert we’ve made below:
You might be tempted to click that enticing green button if you spot it dancing around on the side of your screen, but you really shouldn’t. By downloading malicious software such as this, you’re opening yourself up to hackers.
If you do accidentally click a link that you think might harm your PC, run an antivirus scan right away. It’s better to run a ‘full scan’ instead of a ‘quick scan’, although this will take slightly longer to finish.
5. Use a password manager
If you’re a keen online shopper, or do most of your work at a computer, you’ll probably be juggling lots of different usernames and passwords for various online accounts.
By teaming up with an effective password manager, you can securely save all of your passwords, or generate a single, super-secure password that works across all of your different apps. Popular password managers include LastPass, 1Password and KeePass.
Stay secure with our expert guide on the best password managers.
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Additional reporting by Tom Morgan.