Browsers are becoming more and more advanced as they develop. They started with viewing websites in almost black and white and any two-way interaction with the websites were rare. Now our browsers are one of the most visited pieces of software on our computers and cell phones.
Today, not only can browsers go to websites and view information but they can also interact with the websites they visit and that can end up leading to trouble if you’re not careful of what you download, specifically with installing Active X controls.
A brief history of ActiveX before we start. ActiveX is a software and coding framework made by Microsoft in 1996 and now competes with Sun Microsystem’s Java platform. ActiveX controls are almost like “mini” pieces of software that can be used not just in Internet Explorer, but also in other pieces of software such as the Offfice product suite and Windows Media Player. When the controls are in your browser, they are usually used for visual plugins, such as specialized 3rd party media players, remote control applications, online virus scanners and other things of that nature.
You might visit a website occasionally which will prompt you to download/install ActiveX in your computer, and say “yes” to the couple of security confirmation prompts that come up not knowing what you’re really accepting, but this is exactly where the danger lies. Most people only care to get to the content they’re visiting, so they will keep clicking “yes” and “accept” as many times as it takes to see the final page, and that is where the danger lies for you to be opened up to viruses, trojan horses, spyware and even phishing attempts.
ActiveX controls can be dangerous because, once you finish installing Active X controls, they have most of the functions a regular Windows program running on your desktop has, which is a significant security problem if the control was from a malware infested site or was downloaded by mistake. That’s why if you have a prompt for a questionable or suspicious ActiveX control from your browser, the worst thing that can happen will simply be that you won’t be able to see the site or page you’re trying to visit.
If you think you’ve installed a risky ActiveX control, it is easy to remove. If you’re using Firefox, click on Tools, click Add-Ons, then click on the Plugins tab and disable the control that you’re trying to remove by clicking disable.
In Internet Explorer, click on Tools then on Manage Add-Ons and make sure that the “Toolbars and Extensions” type is selected on the left menu. Click on the control you’d like to remove and then click disable by its information in the lower right corner.
Finally, a word about how to stay safe. Some online toolbars (such as the Google Toolbar) and many browsers (including Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox) can help by warning you that a site you are trying to visit is known for downloading malicious code to its visitors browsers so if you do get such a warning from a browser, be sure to pay attention to it. Most browsers usually show a red screen before loading the page to make sure you get the message!
Do you have tips on how you stay safe while browsing? Share them with us in the comments below!