While statistics put Internet Explorer clearly ahead as the most widely used web browser, it’s clear to many people that it is not due to the excellent programming. Subject to more than one official inquiry in Europe, and numerous columns, both online and in print, the practice of “˜bundling’ the infamous browser with the every copy of the operating system represents the primary reason behind its crushing dominance.
Alternative web browsers are aplenty and have a low barrier of entry even for less technically savvy computer users, but people are generally not keen to change their habits or spending time researching, downloading and installing another application – especially when the one that comes preloaded appears to be working just fine.
1. Firefox is not perfect software, but its vulnerabilities are fixed in a considerably shorter amount of time. Many new users are curious – is Mozilla Firefox safe? Updates are released immediately, not on a monthly schedule, and clock in at fewer than 10 MB. Users are notified automatically and prompted to install the update with a single click. The update process doesn’t take more than a minute on a modern computer.
2. Since Firefox is open source, anyone can look at the source code, anyone can spot a problem and contribute a fix. Would you leave your car keys with a guy that says “trust me” or at a car lot with video surveillance and a logbook?
3. ActiveX applets, the way IE extends the functionality of the browser, are a known highway for malware and viruses. Firefox works with verified and signed add-ons. Even if you choose to install a malicious add-on – and the browser warns you – the damage is limited to the information in the browser whereas ActiveX exploits could be used to take over the whole computer.
5. Security through obscurity; malicious programmers will always target the browser with the largest user base, especially if that user base is less tech savvy.
6. Firefox uses a service provided by Google that notifies the user before entering a potentially malicious web site. These websites ask for your financial data under false pretenses or contain malicious software often posing as something useful such as codecs or registry fixes.
We check the radiator on the car when the temperature indicator turns red; by the time the computer starts acting up or not starting at all, and by all chances appearing to work just fine, your documents, passwords and financial data might already siphoned half a world away. Most people don’t realize this, there are no clear warnings, but using Internet Explorer is in itself a security threat.
I substantiate that statement by citing the Google Analytics on my blog – there are still people using old, un-patched and therefore vulnerable versions of Internet Explorer. The reasons behind this range from the hassle of dealing with Windows Update, millions of machines without a valid license which cannot access updates and users not realizing the importance of having up to date software.
This is not news, yet there are people unaware of the danger posed. Washington Post’s Brian Krebs reports on the Security Fix blog “Internet Explorer Unsafe for 284 Days in 2006″. Even a fully patched and up-to-date version of IE 6 contains at least 22 discovered vulnerabilities; IE 7 stands at 9 and IE 8 at 2. By comparison, the latest version of Firefox (3.5.1), a free and open source browser, has zero un-patched vulnerabilities; the previous version (3.0.x) also stands at zero.
As always, you’re welcome to leave a comment below. Is Mozilla Firefox much more safe compared to IE? You might also want to check out some MakeUseOf posts on security, browsers in general.