What is a web browser? Can you name the ones you use? Here’s a hint: it is the most frequently used computer application. A computer application is a software program the performs a certain function. When you “surf the web,” access the Internet, shop online, keep in touch with Facebook, and for many people, read and send email, you are using a web browser application.
The four most popular web browsers are Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari. Other common web browsers include Microsoft’s new Edge, Opera, which is popular in Europe, Iceweasel, the Linux version of Firefox (get the pun?), and TOR, the Firefox variant used to traverse the Internet and the Dark Web in an anonymous, secure, and untraceable manner.
Remember the first web browser you ever used? Was it Netscape?
- WorldWideWeb, February 25, 1990
- Mosaic, April 22, 1993 (this became Netscape)
- Netscape Navigator and Netscape Communicator, October 13, 1994
- Internet Explorer, August 16, 1995
- Opera, 1996
- Mozilla Navigator, June 5, 2002
- TOR, September 20, 2002
- Safari, January 7, 2003
- Mozilla Firefox, November 9, 2004
- Google Chrome, September 2, 2008
- Microsoft Edge, July 9, 2015
Modern browsers allow you to set one or more “home pages.” This is often Google Search, Bing, or Yahoo, but can really be any web pages you want. Modern browsers let you open several web pages at a time and close, rearrange, and manage them with “tabs” at the top of the browser.
Modern web browsers have added “search” capability to the address bar. The address bar is the white box at the very top of the browser, that displays the web address of the page you are viewing. Not the search box in the middle of the Google page, but that works too. Modern browsers allow you choose which search engine your browser will use when you search from the address bar. With Internet Explorer and Edge, this will be Bing by default, with Chrome it will be Google Search. Firefox and Safari both have changed from Google to Yahoo Search in the last few years. But you can go into the browser settings an choose your favorite search provider if you prefer something besides the default.
I have used most of the available browsers. I’ve used Internet Explorer mostly, until a few years ago. I switched to Firefox when it was the big thing, but went back to IE. I’ve used Safari on my Mac. About three years ago I switched to Chrome and have been pretty happy with the way it works. Unfortunately, I am not happy with the way Google tracks me online (and physically through the GPS on my Android phone) in order to deliver “relevant” advertising. It is unnerving when I research a product online on my laptop, and for the next three weeks I see ads for it on the games in my tablet, and in the margins of the web sites I visit.
Why are we spending so much time talking about web browsers? Different web browsers provide better privacy and security than others. And since nearly 100% of modern exploits are started through email, a web browser, or a combination of both, it is important from a security standpoint to understand how browser work, and how they are vulnerable. On Friday we will look into this issue further.