Is it a good idea to use alternate Web browsers?

Question

With all of the security issues lately with Internet Explorer, my techno nerd friend keeps telling me that I should install Mozilla and quit using IE. Is this a good idea or is he just another over zealous geek?

-Danielle

Answer

This question was answered on July 8, 2004. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

With the recent announcement of another gaping whole in the security of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, the thought of using an alternative browser is becoming more common.

For those that have not visited the Windows Update web site (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com) for a couple of weeks, it is imperative that you do so immediately as a temporary work-around for this latest (very dangerous) exploit has been posted.

Since Internet Explorer is installed in hundreds of millions of Windows based systems in operation on the Internet, it is by far the biggest target of online vandals and Microsoft haters.

Microsoft’s proprietary ‘Active X’ controls, which are part of Internet Explorer, are designed to work directly with the Windows operating system and many applications This ‘integrated’ functionality is often times the Achilles heel when it comes to security in Microsoft’s browser

It’s the classic compromise between functionality and security In most computer based systems, the more functional it is the less secure and vice versa.

As Microsoft adds new tools to make their browser more useful, malicious users find ways to exploit these tools to attack those that use them.

By installing and using a different browser such as Mozilla or Opera, you can very often side-step many of the targeted attacks against users of Microsoft’s Windows based systems.

In the past, hardcore technology fans were the biggest users of these alternative browsers, but many security firms (such as the U.S Computer Emergency Readiness Team – www.cert.org) are now suggesting that switching to one of them may be a good idea.

In our service business, we have seen some users experience problems after installing an alternative browser (mainly Netscape), so my only word of caution is to make sure you don’t already have other issues before you install an alternate browser.

If you are experiencing any kind of problem or strange behavior in your system, be sure to resolve those issues before introducing another variable, such as an alternative browser, to the mix.

For the most part, Mozilla (<a href="http://www.mozilla.org/"target="_" >www.mozilla.org</a>) and Opera (www.opera.com) seem to be the most widely recommended alternative browsers and both have free versions available for download.

While these browsers do provide all of the critical needs for browsing, they may not function exactly the same way as Internet Explorer, so allow yourself some time to learn how they work.

Corporate users that connect through a VPN or other systems that are controlled by a centralized IT department should check with their administrators before installing and/or using these browsers, just to play it safe (and to keep your computer guru happy!)

In this particular case, your ‘techno nerd’ friend was not being over zealous but rather very mindful of your security!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on July 8, 2004