All About Web Browsers

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 purpose of a web browser application is to take the HTML, Javascript, PHP, and other software languages that make up web sites, and convert them from computer code into a viewable, interactive sources of information, entertainment, news, weather, sports, videos, and pictures.  Web browsers make services such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google Search, and other popular web destinations possible.  You are reading this article with a web browser.

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?

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.

 

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About the Author:

Cybersecurity guru to business owners in the St Paul, Minneapolis, and western Wisconsin area. Computer security and hacking have been a passion of mine since I entered the computer and networking business in 2000. In 2013 I completed a course of study and certification exam to become a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). In 2016 I was certified as a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). As Senior Cybersecurity Engineer at Computer Integration Technologies, I help our clients experience high levels of computer security, network security, and web site security. In addition to consulting on security products and services, we also conduct security audits, vulnerability assessments and full penetration tests. We also provide Cybersecurity Awareness Training for clients and their employees. We also work with companies and organizations that need to certify compliance with regulations such as PCI-DSS (credit card processing), HIPAA/HITECH (medical records), and GLBA. The views expressed on this Web site are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.
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