Use Safer Browsers Says France and Germany – Internet Explorer Exploited

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Internet Explorer Logo

Internet Explorer

Microsoft have confirmed that Internet Explorer was used in the December cyber attacks on Google and some other outfits and this has led to calls from France and Germany to use safer browsers. However Microsoft has stated that Internet Explorer 8 is one of the ‘most secure browsers on the market’ these attacks exploited a security hole in Internet Explorer 6 however, Microsoft admit there is a vulnerability in Internet Explorer 8 and experts have indicated that this exploit code can be adapted to target other browsers.

Would the French and German Governments say to their citizens do not use Windows as its unsafe? No probably not. As mentioned above the exploit code can be adapted to target other browsers so does this mean that Internet Explorer is far more  susceptible to attack than say FireFox? Well maybe but it more to the point the hackers target Internet Explorer simply because it is so popular these ‘hackers’ wanted access to Google accounts and what browser was more than likely being used by the people who’s email they wanted access to? Yep you have guessed it Internet Explorer.

So the advantages of running other browsers is that the bad guys are less likely to be going after you, still that said using a better browser than Internet Explorer is advisable but what are the options?

FireFox

FireFox Logo

FireFox

Firefox is the worlds second most popular browser and is the browser of choice for so many because of the wide availability of plugins. Firefox itself has had quite a few vunerabilities patched by Mozilla (the makers of Firefox) but they are found far less frequently than those in Internet Explorer. FireFox is my browser of choice (along with Ubuntu OS – hey why use a operating system that is so popular and targeted by hackers?!) but a few plugins or Add-ons offer another layer of security.

First of all there is no-script a must have Add-on for all FireFox users. No-Script blocks Javascript from running on the webpage you are visiting, well most browsers can do this but the beauty with No-Script is that you can allow some scripts to run from the domain you are visiting but block other third party scripts from running whilst on site. For example you may be on www.direct.gov.uk and allow all scripts from www.direct.gov.uk to run. Now you may also find that scripts attempt to run from say evil.com (say the site had been hacked for example – don’t panic I’m sure the direct gov site is fine!) these would be blocked allowing you to view the page normally but preventing you from being exploited by a third party script. No-Script in this way will stop 99% of web based attacks.

Another great plugin is Web of Trust (WOT) which helps block access to potentially unsafe sites that you may visit. This is from the WOT website:

The WOT community has rated millions of websites. Use their warnings to protect yourself from online scams, sites with adult content and spam. Recommendations will give you confidence when doing business with online shops, download sites and more.

The WOT plugin adds small icons to google searches telling you if the site is potentially dangerous whilst if you do visit a site that may harm your computer it will block access to the site unless you override the settings. You can also add your comments and rating to the site in order to help others avoid potential pitfalls.

With these plugins (and some others) FireFox is certainly my browser of choice at the moment.

Opera

Opera Logo

Opera

Opera would be my second choice and is installed on all of my computers. Opera has one over many fans for its ease of use and security credentials although security alerts do appear from time to time they are quickly patched by Opera.

Opera also boasts email support so you can pick up your email from within the built in email client. I must admit I do not know Opera that well but I will say it leaves Internet Explorer far behind. If your still using IE then using Opera will be a like a breath of fresh air, oh and you will be much safer online!

Safari

Safari Icon

Safari

Sorry Mac fans (hey I use a mac in work and I love it) but Safari is a no no for me. Firefox and Opera are my choices of browser on a mac I leave Safari well alone. Why? Well it is god dam slow that is why! Its Javascript handling is poor so using Javascript intensive pages such as Google Ad-Words or Google Analytics it brings my machine to a crawl. This doesn’t just appear to be my Mac either I tried installing the Windows version of Safari with the same result.

I am also dubious of Safari’s security claims when vulnerabilities are found with Apple products they are notoriously slow to patch them so with this in mind I’d stay away from Safari.

Sorry Mac fans but as I said I love my Mac in work and would like to use them at home but I am less than convinced with Apples attitude to security updates leaving them un-patched until exploit code is produced – not good enough!

Google Chrome

Google Chrome Icon

Google Chrome

I’m really not in a position to judge Google Chrome. I must admit I installed it on my windows machine and didn’t care to much for the interface and my Mac in work is running Tiger (OS X 10.4) and Chrome needs Leopard (OS X 10.5) to run on the Mac. I have heard that the Javascript engine is the fastest out of all the browsers whilst security wise I know that Google has fixed two high-severity vulnerabilities which is quicker than Apple do with Safari!

Another advantage with Chrome is that each browser tab runs as a seperate process so if one page crashes it does not crash your entire browser.

I conclude – Secure Browsers!

I’d recommend anyone move away from Internet explorer ASAP, well if you are a web developer you have to have it to check your designs work! I mentioned earlier that my browser of choice is FireFox with the plugins No-Script and Web of Trust installed this should protect you from most on-line threats (still use some common sense when visiting web sites!). Opera is also installed on my machine which I use now and again without problems and I see no reason why you shouldn’t try Google Chrome. My personnel opinion is to leave Safari alone unless you use nothing else but Apple….

There are other browsers out there of course so please mention any other browsers you use :-)

5 replies
    • Robert Dicks
      Robert Dicks says:

      Since this article was written Rod Chrome has started to gain a decent market share I’m now lucky enough to be on Leopard (OS X 10.5) and I must say Chrome is pretty quick. I use a mixture of Chrome and Firefox, Chrome for speed and Firefox as I find it has more features when I am developing a website.

      Reply

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