Safe Browsers and Safe Sites

Your choice of browser and the sites you visit are important to your safety. Your browser needs to protect you from dangerous sites and give you options for your personal tracking preferences. And you need to recognize the difference between safe sites, those that encrypt Internet traffic, and open non-encrypted sites that don’t hide your traffic from snoopers. Knowing the difference is, thankfully, easy because today’s browsers use a graphic padlock icon, and even display alerts, to warn you when you are connected to a site that is not safe from prying eyes. Let’s start with encryption.

What is encryption?

Encryption is scrambling the data between your computer and a site on the Internet so that anyone spying on your interaction only sees gobbledegook. That’s not a technical term, but it is descriptive. For example, the phrase Roses are red, violets are blue encrypted is KfZDvZ7B61HROck5SFP6xKDUcEtucZUH+YsGTujwlX8=. Try rhyming that!

How do you know when you are connected to a safe site?

All popular browsers display a padlock icon in the address bar. The icon shows a locked padlock when connected to a safe site (locked from prying eyes) and unlocked for a site that doesn’t hide or encrypt your data.

graphic depicting locked padlock icon and https

Secure encryption

All major browsers will display a padlock icon in the locked position to indicate when you’re connection is encrypted and safe from interception by prying eyes. Some browsers will also display the “https” in the address box.

Choosing a browser

Most popular browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge, are good choices. If you are still using Internet Explorer, stop. Internet Explorer is no longer a supported browser and is not safe. Alternative browsers that specialize in ad blocking and anonymity include Opera, Brave, Epic, and Tor, to name a few.

Websites track you for marketing

Most Internet sites make money showing ads. To do this effectively, sites keep track of what products you look for and what sites you visit. That detailed historical information, called tracking, is shared between sites on common ad spaces. That’s why when you go browsing for a new TV on one website, you will see lots of ads for TVs on every website you visit for days.

Options for additional privacy

Most browsers have some privacy options that include the ability to prevent tracking. In reality, you can ask websites not to track you or share your browsing history but there are few laws or regulations that prevent them from doing so. If you want to limit tracking, go to your browser’s settings, and look for privacy settings. You’ll still see ads, they just won’t necessarily be relevant to you. If you really don’t want to be tracked, use one of the alternative browsers mentioned above.

Search engines

We Google everything. And Google remembers everything. Search engines make money selling marketing information about you, information gathered from your searches, to retailers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, much research has shown that we actually prefer ads that are relevant to us. But if you want to search for something anonymously, use a search engine like DuckDuckGo, Startpage, or MetaGer (again to name a few).