When users browse online, they often forget to clear the data from their web browser cache. However, this means that browsers can locally save sensitive website information such as bank account numbers and email passwords. If there is no company practice in place for staff to perform basic security measures like clearing their cache, malware can enter their systems, find private data, and send it to hackers, leading to dire consequences for companies.
How Browser Caches Store Web Data
A cache is a repository of stored data that is used to speed up the process of retrieving data. If a user accessing a resource already has some of its data stored in a cache, then the user does not need to retrieve that data from the resource—he or she can simply use it from the cache. But if the cache is empty, he or she must obtain all of it from the resource, which can be time-consuming.
Imagine a user visiting a news website every day. If he or she has no cache, the browser must download all the data from the website for each visit. But some of that information—such as the logo—may stay the same over time. The browser can intelligently store that persistent information in its cache so that it will not have to be repeatedly downloaded on subsequent visits, which saves time and improves browser performance.
Vulnerabilities in HTTPS Connections
A security issue with browser caches is that there is some web information users would prefer not to have stored insecurely—for example, banking details. Historically, HTTPS-encrypted web connections were used to transmit sensitive data, so browsers were cautious about caching data from them. However, today, the HTTPS standard is often used to deliver non-sensitive data as well. By and large, browsers have discarded their caution as a result and now frequently cache information from HTTPS connections as well as regular ones. This means users can end up with sensitive information stored insecurely in their browser caches.
Malware that bypasses security tools and infects a user's system commonly seeks to find sensitive information and send it to the malware creator using the machine's network connection. One prominent place malware can look for data is the browser cache.
In 2013, a major security flaw in Google Chrome was revealed: each time a user entered private information into the address bar or webforms, Chrome’s caching mechanism would routinely store this information directly onto the user’s hard drive in unencrypted text. So, if users failed to clear their caches, data-seeking malware could easily find and harvest this information to send to hackers.
To prevent malware from finding sensitive data, companies should establish a mandated security policy for all company employees to routinely clear their browser caches. Although organizations need to focus on network security monitoring and other advanced cybersecurity measures, their systems can be compromised if staff don't make it a regular practice to take basic defensive steps, leading to costly security risks that can be easily avoided.
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