Internet Explorer Considered Unsafe by CERT

Recently CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team, issued this advisory in which they suggested that, because of Internet Explorer’s vulnerability to exploits, users should “use a different web browser.” Though that is only one of six suggestions CERT offered as an interim solution to the most recent threat, reported in Wired News on June 25th, it was the one that drew the most attention and has affected the behavior of computer users the most.

In this follow-up article in Wired News, the authors report:

… many evidently took CERT’s warning to heart and downloaded Mozilla or Mozilla’s Firefox, free, open-source Web browsers developed and distributed by the Mozilla Organization, who resurrected the remnants of Netscape after it was purchased by AOL in 1999.

Downloads of Mozilla and Firefox — an advanced version of Mozilla — spiked the day CERT’s warning was released, and demand has continued to grow. According to Chris Hofmann, engineering director at the Mozilla Foundation, formed last July to promote the development, distribution and adoption of Mozilla Web applications, downloads of the browsers hit an all-time high on Thursday, from the usual 100,000 or so downloads on a normal day to more than 200,000.

The International Herald Tribune carries an article by Victoria Shannon in which she says:

There’s no anti-virus software cure for clever counterfeiting. As with nondigital forgery, we can rely only on our healthy skepticism and good judgment to protect us.

But there is an antidote to a lot of the other Internet security risks out there, including the Web site infections described above, and that is to stop using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer software. That’s right: Switch from the Web browser that is used by 95 percent of Internet surfers.

I have taken the advice of these experts and downloaded and begun using Firefox. There are many things to commend this browser besides its increased security such as tabbed browsing, the ability to save groups of web sites as a single bookmark so that they all open when the bookmark is clicked, and a great deal of ability to tailor the program to work as you want it to. And lest you be concerned that adding it to your computer will somehow deprive you of Internet Explorer, let me point out that you can have more than one browser on your system without interfering with other browsers that are installed, such as Internet Explorer. In fact, it’s never a bad idea to have a backup on your system already, just in case you lose access with the lone browser most users have installed. So I can recommend Firefox as a good backup browser, even if you don’t intend to use it permanently. My guess is that if you invest the time to become familiar with it, you’ll find it a more than adequate replacement for Internet Explorer.

Microsoft has developed a “critical update” as reported in this article from the San Jose Mercury News. Although it’s a stop-gap measure, intended to address the vulnerabilities that the newest virus presents, it is certainly something you should apply. Just go to the Windows Update site and Scan for Updates. Then apply the critical update to your version of IE.

A number of my friends have expressed exasperation at having to go to all this trouble just to use the Internet, and I can empathize, but just as you “shouldn’t” have to lock the doors to your home when you leave but you do, so surfing the Internet imposes some requirements on you if you hope to be safe. So take the time to read up on these issues and take some action to protect yourself from this latest menace. Either download a different browser or, at the very least, patch IE with Microsoft’s fix.

A word to the wise is sufficient … I hope.


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