Browser Security Risks and How to Manage Them | FOCOS

Browser Security Risks

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Browser Security Risks

Keyboard With Key and Padlock
As the threat of cybercrime becomes more and more pronounced, companies around the world are reexamining the risk of using internet browsers for business purposes. In the past several years, there is a trend of an increase in spyware attacks through browsers, as they are often vulnerable to such exploits. For this reason, companies are focusing on methods to prevent exploits and protect their business and sensitive data from unauthorized access. From leaking sensitive information to demanding a ransom, cyber-attacks can put your business in a very uncomfortable situation. Considering the fact that ransomware attacks are becoming more common with the ransom amounts ever increasing, it is clear why cybersecurity is a major concern for companies that operate online and use cloud apps as a part of daily business.

What Makes Internet Browsers Vulnerable to Attacks?

The factors that contribute to browser vulnerability can be broken down into two groups: browser features and user behavior. The two are very connected, and although they both impact security separately, it is their combination that makes browsers a risky tool for handling sensitive operations.

How Internet Browser Features Impact Security

Most Internet browsers have a wide range of features that are aimed at improving user experience. However, enabling some of them can create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by spyware. The three features universal for most popular browsers are plug-ins (extensions), Cookies, and Cache memory.

Plug-ins (extensions)

Plug-ins or extensions are different applications used by the browser to provide additional functionalities and improve UX. They are easy to download, and there are thousands of them. Some popular examples of plug-ins include AdBlocker, Flash player, and different password managers. These applications are designed by third-party developers and can have intentional or unintentional programming and design flaws. While most extensions are perfectly safe to use, there are some that are designed to steal sensitive information. A recent spyware campaign that hit Google Chrome users was carried out through several extensions available in the Chrome Web Store. While claiming to provide users with different useful functions, in reality, they were designed to transfer the users’ browsing data and credentials for accessing websites, accounts, and online software. More than 70 of these malicious extensions were later identified and removed from the store after reaching a cumulative download count of 32 million. As a result, numerous users have unknowingly exposed themselves to spyware and ransomware. While browser companies are constantly updating their security features and finding ways to identify malicious software and protect their users, cyber attackers never seem to be more than a step behind.

Cookies

Cookies are browser-specific files used to store certain information from visited websites and provide users with a smoother, more personalized experience. More accurately, cookies are used for three purposes: session management, personalization, and tracking. Apart from improving user experience, they also unburden website server storage space, as they are stored locally. Cookies are saved on the visitor’s computer and can contain different information. Some of them include harmless data, while others may contain credentials and data that allows websites to identify their visitors. Depending on whether the cookies are stored permanently, we can differentiate between two types: session cookies and persistent cookies. As their name would suggest, session cookies are stored only for the duration of the browsing session and are automatically cleared once the session ends. On the other hand, persistent cookies are written to the computer’s hard drive and may or may not have a preset lifespan, after which they are deleted. These can be problematic in terms of security, as they include data used for authentication (login information) and tracking (information on visited pages used to suggest content based on the user’s preferences). While cookies aren’t malicious in themselves, it is the information they store that can pose a security risk. Suppose an attacker were to obtain a specific cookie from the user’s system. They could use it to access sensitive information from a specific website or, at the very least, gain insight into the browsing habits of their target.  Depending on their origin, there are first-party and third-party cookies. The former are created by the website the user visits, as explained above. The latter, however, can be created by linked websites, most commonly through ads on the visited page, even if the user never clicks on them.

Browser Cache

Cache is a temporary memory used to store certain elements of the websites you visit. This allows faster loading speeds and easier access, as the elements don’t need to be downloaded from the server every time. Instead, they are loaded directly from cache memory located on the computer. Although convenient, this adds another security risk associated with browsers.  Malware designed to access cache data can provide the attacker with an abundance of information from the websites a person has visited. The most commonly stored elements include images, HTML, as well as JavaScript files. If an unauthorized user were to gain access to cache files, they would have a clear picture of the victim’s browsing history. While most servers send browsers “instructions” not to cache sensitive data, such as login credentials, not all of them do. In this case, a successful attack could expose more than just the user’s browsing habits.

How User Behavior Impacts Browser Security

The existing browser vulnerabilities are often enabled or made worse by user behavior. Most people have limited knowledge about browser security risks and rarely think about the potential consequences of their online actions. From visiting unsecured websites to failing to configure their browser securely, users often contribute to their victimization. The most common practices that increase browser vulnerability have to do with convenience. Installing unnecessary plug-ins, enabling various features, saving login information (usernames and passwords) and cookies are examples of behavior that can increase the security risks or augment the consequences of a successful cyber attack. The problem with the online behavior of employees is that it is difficult to control. Even if they are familiar with security risks, there is no guarantee that they will adhere to security recommendations.

FOCOS Offers a Safer Alternative

Using a dedicated digital workspace optimized for business purposes is a much safer alternative compared to browsers. With full control over the platform and its security-oriented features, FOCOS offers a secure digital work environment.

A Controlled Work Environment

Unlike browsers, the dedicated work environment FOCOS provides contains only elements necessary for work. Depending on the industry, your company’s management can determine which apps and features to integrate and make available to the employees. This means that there will be far fewer opportunities for harmful user behavior. This is especially important if employees use the same computer for work and personal use (if they are working remotely, for example). A safe digital workspace will add an extra layer of security and can protect sensitive company data from malware, even if the user compromises their own security.

Anti-Malware

When it comes to protecting against malware, FOCOS does not allow installing third-party software from potentially malicious websites. This eliminates the risk of a company computer getting infected with malware during browsing sessions, thus keeping valuable data safe from cybercriminals.

Protection Against Unauthorized Use

Another rarely mentioned security risk associated with browsers is unrestricted access to all apps and data to anyone using a company computer. If the computer is left unattended, potentially anyone could simply start the browser and gain immediate access to all online data and any SaaS applications used for business. On the other hand, FOCOS provides an additional security layer in this sense. As soon as the user signs out of the platform, all their data, apps, credentials, and activity are protected from any unauthorized personnel.

Browsing Data Collection

Finally, most browsers collect user browsing data for personalization purposes. How this data is later used and who has access to it is often unclear. For example, Google Chrome connects all user activity with their Google account in order to improve user experience. To make the browsing experience even more convenient, Chrome even allows automatic login to certain websites with the currently active account. This creates more possibilities for those who are looking to gain unauthorized access to information or software and can be considered a security risk. FOCOS ensures all data pertaining to browsing, SaaS usage, and other activity is made available to the organization’s management, instead of browser companies. Apart from ensuring that no usage data is shared with persons outside of the organization, FOCOS also provides insight into employee activity to business leaders.

Summary

As explained above, internet browsers can pose a significant security risk for companies when used for business purposes. The combination of their built-in weaknesses and potentially harmful online behavior of less security-savvy individuals can have serious repercussions. Apart from educating employees on browser security risks, there is little companies can do to prevent cyber attacks through Internet browsers and mitigate their potential consequences. In this sense, a secure, dedicated digital platform optimized for work can provide the preemptive solution to the ever-growing challenge of cybercrime.