Mozilla's Firefox

Question

With all the security warnings for Internet Explorer, do you have a suggestion on another browser?

- Janet

Answer

This question was answered on February 17, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The web browser (used to view sites on the Internet) has been under attack for some time and the biggest target is the one most widely used: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

With the sheer number of daily users running in the hundreds of millions, it’s no wonder why those with malicious intent would work to uncover vulnerabilities.

Vulnerabilities are often times an exploitation of a useful feature For instance, a car with a convertible top has a vulnerability to moisture, sun damage and is an easy target for thieves The manufacturer didn’t design it to be vulnerable; it’s just the consequence of the feature.

In this same way, many of the very useful features designed into Internet Explorer can be twisted around and used to exploit users

For instance, a useful feature that allowed Internet Explorer to launch a program, such as Excel, from within a web page was designed to reduce the steps needed to view a spreadsheet Unfortunately, the result is a huge vulnerability that also allows malicious programmers to tell the browser to open harmful programs and attack the user.

To protect users from being vulnerable to this exploit, a ‘patch’ was later released to turn off this useful feature (the equivalent of removing the convertible top and replacing it with a hard top to ‘patch’ the car’s vulnerability).

This relentless cycle of newly discovered vulnerabilities and subsequent patches has reduced the functionality of Internet Explorer and increased the risk of using it

Several alternative browsers have been around for a long time, but until last year when the floodgates opened up on Internet Explorer vulnerabilities, none of them gained any real traction.

I originally wrote about Mozilla’s Firefox browser last summer as a solid substitute for Internet Explorer and since then, it has become quite popular.

When it was first released, it was hailed as being much safer from vulnerabilities because it did not use the same architecture as Microsoft The reality is that nothing is safe from malicious programmers and it was just a matter of time before Firefox became a target.

To date several serious vulnerabilities have been discovered in Firefox, but just like Microsoft, patches have been created to protect users.

As a security measure, there is no question that Firefox allows you to fly ‘under the radar’ much more so than Internet Explorer for the time being I recently wrote about the Teen Effect on computers and switching them or any highly active Internet surfer over to Firefox is great way to reduce the electronic ‘grime’ that can be picked up on the Information Superhighway

As the popularity grows for this browser, so will the attempts at compromising it, so be sure to keep it updated as well.

From a usability standpoint, the only current issue with Firefox is that it does not support ActiveX (a Microsoft web technology) so some web sites may not function properly In those cases, you will have to go back to Internet Explorer, but I have found very little in my normal surfing that has been impacted by it.

For those that installed the original versions of Firefox last year, be sure to upgrade to version 1.0 to patch the known holes vulnerabilities are patched Whether you are upgrading or want to try it out for the first time, you can do either at www.mozilla.org.

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Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on February 17, 2005