Basic Internet Security

Introduction to safe browsing

Web browsing is one of the key activities we engage in while using the internet. Our browsing histories, the things we search for, the sites we visit and the things we might post might be of interest to others, it is valuable to them either for commercial or political reasons. The following chapter deals with securing the way you browse the internet and makes you more familiar with threats you are facing so you can recognize them and act appropriately.

The first thing to consider is which web browser to use. Windows comes pre-installed with Internet Explorer while Apple computers come shipped with Safari. In this book we will exclusively look at the excellent and freely available Firefox browser.

Firefox runs on all the major operating systems Windows, MacOS and Linux and it has been translated into more than 75 languages. When concerned about securing your browsing activities there it is the only viable option when choosing a browser. Therefore this section only deals with Firefox and its add-ons. Know that you can also install Firefox on a CD or USB, so you can take it with you where ever you go, so you know you have it installed from a trusted source (see also the chapter on portable software).

Why browsing is unsafe

The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the networking protocol used by browsers that allows communication between you and a site you are visiting. Because communication is transmitted in plain text it is unsafe, especially when using wireless networks. It is like transmitting a message with personal information on a postcard. Data, such as user names and passwords, sent to and received by Web sites, are easy to read by third parties.

To solve this problem the Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) was invented to provide encrypted communication and secure identification of a network web server. Most major Web sites, including Google, Wikipedia, and popular social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. can also be reached via a secure connection, but not necessarily by default. Note that most sites do not provide encryption.

In this section will discuss several safety measures: how to install Firefox, how to extend Firefox with add-ons to ensure safer browsing, and how to finder safer routes through TOR, proxy settings and FoxyProxy.