Is Your Web Browser Putting You At Risk?
It’s free, it comes with Windows and it’s used by approximately 94% of the Internet population. It also poses an unacceptable security risk. What am I talking about? If you guessed Internet Explorer, you’re right on the money. So, is your web browser putting you at risk? If you’re one of the 94% using Internet Explorer, the answer is a definite *yes*. By my math, quite a few people require critical information for protection.
What’s the problem with Internet Explorer (known as “IE” from here out) and how does it put you at risk?
The main problem with IE is the numerous security flaws. As an example, between April 2001 and June 2004, Microsoft documented *153 security flaws* in IE. When a security flaw is discovered Microsoft releases information about the flaw and the potential impact. *Usually* at this point Microsoft provides a downloadable security fix to remedy the problem. Since many people don’t know about the flaw and the fix, frequently people remain vulnerable for long periods of time.
Just how serious are some of these security flaws? Some of the critical security flaws allow attackers to basically gain control of your computer and run whatever malicious programs they chose. In many cases, a vulnerable computer can be compromised just by visiting the wrong website.
Here are but a few of the malicious programs I’ve seen loaded on computers through security holes in IE:
* Browser Hijackers. These are programs that do nasty things like change your home page to another page, usually something pornographic in nature. They can also install software and links on your desktop, of course *without* your permission.
* Spyware. This is extremely devious and malicious software, and in many cases, it’s used by criminals for online identity theft. Once it’s on your computer, Spyware sits quietly in the background recording information about you. Do you shop and bank online? This is one threat to be extremely concerned about.
What can you do to improve security?
Rather than continue to apply what amounts to “band aid” security fixes to IE, I recommend a more permanent solution. Stop letting IE put you at risk, and switch to another web browser.
How exactly will switching web browsers help? Quite simply, there are so many security exploits on the Internet targeted specifically to IE that just by using another browser, you’ll happily avoid most of them.
The good news is that there are several alternative web browsers available free of charge like Netscape, Mozilla, Opera and Firefox. For more information a great website to visit is http://BrowseHappy.com. This website is dedicated to getting people to switch from IE. It’s full of “real life” stories about why people switched, and what browser they’re using now.
So, what’s the best browser of the bunch? Well, it’s highly subjective of course, but my vote goes to …
Firefox, “Rediscover the Web”
A new browser called Firefox has quickly become my web browser of choice. First off, Firefox was written to be “lean and mean” and it certainly delivers. It’s faster at loading web pages than IE and even provides features not found in IE. Something I suspect will quickly become a favorite feature is called tabbed browsing. Tabbed browsing allows you to load multiple web pages in the same window, and quickly switch between the loaded pages. Tired of pop-ups? Firefox has the best built-in pop-up blocker I’ve seen. I have yet to see a pop-up get past it. When it comes to security, Firefox receives *high marks*.
Firefox definitely has a positive “buzz” going right now, and it’s easy to see why. If you’re interested in trying out Firefox, you can download it for free here:
I’ll conclude by saying that switching browsers is only one of several steps necessary to protect yourself from the many threats on the Internet, but it’s certainly a good place to start. Here’s to practicing safe computing.
Guest Columnist Doug Partridge is co-author of a new eBook, “How to Secure Your Computer Using Free Tools and Smart Strategies.” This is the missing Internet security guide that should have come with your Windows computer, but didn’t.