By now, just about everyone and their grandma knows about the whole Google versus China fiasco. News that big can’t be quelled; I’ll bet even the technology averse Amish know all about it.
What a lot of people don’t know is that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) played a role in helping hackers attack Google and essentially start up this entire debate on internet freedom. McAfee security experts discovered the attacks on Google, allegedly made from within the Chinese government, were made possible by security vulnerabilities in IE 6. The attacks on Google are now dubbed “Operation Aurora”. The code for the attacks was released to the public on Friday, January 15th.
According to McAfee, the security hole in IE 6 works by tricking a user into visiting a malicious website which then compromises their entire operating system, relinquishing control to an attacker lying in wait. Microsoft was notified and confirmed that the exploit was extremely dangerous.
Since last Thursday, January 21st, Microsoft has issued security patches for all versions of Internet Explorer, but the damage has already been done. In an interesting public relations stunt, they’re advising consumers to upgrade to Windows Vista or 7 as Aurora remains a bigger threat to computers running Windows 2000 or XP. Vista and Windows 7 have security patches that the other two do not. Microsoft has advised users to ditch the ancient IE 6 that is still installed on many machines.
If Microsoft telling you to give up on IE 6 and upgrade to IE 7 or IE 8 doesn’t phase you, then maybe information security organizations in Germany and France will. Officials from both countries have publicly advised all users to ditch IE 6.
Developers for open source web browsers must be cheering because it’s no longer a question of whether IE sucks or not. The answer is an overwhelming “IE SUCKS”.
What’s a person to do when their first instinct is to look for the IE icon on a Windows computer? I asked a whole bunch of friends who are the farthest from being tech savvy and the answers all pointed in one direction: what are the alternatives? It’s no surprise they haven’t a clue because most alternatives don’t have the word “Internet” in their name.
The answer is to get an open source web browser. Why not grab something like Safari? While Safari is a fine web browser, an open source web browser is generally updated to be more secure than one that is not. Within the open source community, there are eyes everywhere. Bugs and fixes can be patched in quicker amounts of time because it doesn’t require going through a million levels of bureaucracy before it gets the OK to get patched. The IE security hole was known to Microsoft since September, yet it didn’t get patched until last week. If Google was never attacked, we may not have seen that update so soon. Not only are open source browsers the fastest browsers (in my opinion, mainly because most run on WebKit), but most would agree they are the safest ones, too.
I won’t even bother wasting your time with browsers that mean nothing to you. Six Revisions has an excellent round up of the 10 browsers you’ve never heard of.Â There are really only two open source browsers that really matter: Firefox and Chrome. They are the only ones that matter because they are the most popular and as a result have the largest community support. More support = more updates = better compatibility = safer browsing.
Firefox: With a market share of 24.63%, Firefox (FF) is the second most used browser behind Internet Explorer (all versions including 6, 7 and 8). One of the beginning pioneers for open source web browsers, FF has grown into a fine specimen, giving you lots of bang for your buck (free).
Extensions are vital to FF’s existence. Customization in literally millions of combinations tailor the web browser to your personal needs. From weather widgets to torrent managing – you name it and FF likely has it. If it doesn’t have what you’re looking for and you’re up for some coding, you can create it.
Want to browse the web without anyone knowing where you’ve been? Widely dubbed “porn mode,” Private Browsing within Firefox lets you do just that.
Firefox was the first major browser to actually implement the tabbed browsing experience. Most people can’t even remember a time where tabs weren’t implemented.
Firefox 3.6 was just pushed out last week and it gives you all the goodies you would expect it to. To name a few improvements, speed gains are said to be 20% faster and personas (themes) are finally available.
Download Firefox here.
Chrome: Google’s web browser is finally wreaking havoc on Windows PCs and Macs. Chrome offers lightening fast browsing, not to mention the fastest launch time. Unlike other open source web browsers (Firefox and Opera to name two) Chrome treats each tab as a separate process so that if one tab crashes for some reason, it doesn’t cause the entire application to freeze and stop working. Just close that malfunctioning tab.
Aiming to simplify the web browser by reducing all the clutter, the URL bar is also a Google search bar. One bar, two purposes.
Add-ons or extensions are almost mandatory for a modern day browser. Chrome doesn’t slouch in that department either, with some of the most popular Firefox extensions already ported over or in the process of making the jump. Fan favorites such as Adblock Plus and GMail Checker are already available.
Another similarity with Firefox that Chrome has is the porn mode thingamajig, only it’s called Icognito Mode. Neato!
Edging out Safari to become the number three most used browser, Chrome is one of the best new browsers available with backing by what some would say is the internet’s most trusted company.
Download Chrome here.
Both Firefox and Chrome have by far the best pop-up blockers and anti-phishing protections built right in, which is always a plus. So there you have it. Get off that Internet Explorer today or China might just hack you.