If you’re still running Internet Explorer

…now it’s really time to switch. Up until now, I’ve maintained that Mozilla and Firefox are better browsers, and people should choose to use them for reasons of speed, productivity, and security. You’ll get more done, you’ll be bothered by less pop-ups, you’ll have access to some of the best ad blockers, and with the tabbed browsing interface, you can get more done with your time. But now, it’s not a matter of choice any more – it’s just too dangerous not to switch.

Quick Summary

I know, the rest of this article is too long, you don’t have time. Very short version – security problems in Internet Explorer now mean you’re in danger even if you only visit perfectly trustworthy sites, and you can’t patch it to make it safe. Replace it with Mozilla or Firefox. They’re better browsers anyway, and you get to stay safer from Bad People. Read on for more…

The Background

The latest trick being used against IE users starts with someone hacking an IIS server – Microsoft’s web server, and it’s being done to lots of big name sites that you’d usually trust. So staying away from ‘dodgy’ sites isn’t going to help. Your favourite online shop could be affected, as could your favourite news site, games site, or anything else. When you visit a normally trustworthy site that’s been attacked, nothing seems to be different, but in the background, the modified code dowloads and runs a program which, according to Netcraft, will log keystrokes, and catch login information for e-commerce sites you visit. Netcraft also have more information on the hacking of the IIS servers.

According to New Scientist, the actual code that the attack downloads has now been blocked, but it won’t take much for the attackers to change where it gets picked up from.

The trick is still affecting fully patched systems, so keeping up to date with Windows Update won’t help you. Using any other browser that still uses IE to render the pages will still leave you vulnerable. You need to use a browser that uses a different rendering engine, and fortunately, there’s an easy answer.

The Answer

The answer is simple – switch to either Mozilla or Mozilla Firefox. Use one of them as your default browser. They are based on a completely different engine, and are not vulnerable to the same attacks as IE.

OK, But Which One?

Either is good. Firefox is smaller, and is just a browser. Mozilla also includes an email client, web page editor, IRC chat, and address book. If you don’t need any of those extras, you could choose either. I need an email client as well, and I’m happy with Mozilla. If you only need the browser, and you have a reasonably fast connection, you’ll probably find Mozilla a touch more polished. If you have a slower connection, the download for Firefox is a lot smaller.

So the Security is Better – Anything Else?

Glad you asked. Yes. Up until now, I’ve not been so worried about the security, as IE was ok when fully patched, and correctly configured. Now, even that won’t save you, so telling people how to patch and secure IE won’t work any more. They just have to switch. But up until now, I’ve been using Mozilla (and Firefox) for other reasons. Pages that take a long time to open and display in IE often display in a fraction of the time in Mozilla, and usually even a touch quicker than that in Firefox. Tabbed browsing, once you get used to it, lets you do far more with your time. It works by having just one browser window open (or more if you choose), with a set of tabs along the top for different pages. You click the tabs to switch between pages. You can right click a link, and ‘Open in new tab’, and a new tab will open up, with the new page. What this means, is that you can scan through a page listing the latest news stories, galleries of pics you might want to look at, indexes of jokes, or whatever else, open all the ones you’re interested in in new tabs, and then flick through reading them afterwards, when they’ve all downloaded. If you use web based email, you can leave a tab open with your mail in it, ready for use.

So Where Can I Get Them?

Ah, so I’ve convinced you? Good. You’ll be glad. Head to Mozilla.org, and you can pick up either the full Mozilla suite, or the Firefox web browser – they’re both free.