Next-generation web browsers focus on security

One of the main new security draws is the inclusion of protection against phishing.

With the release of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 7 and the upcoming release of its main competitor, Mozilla’s Firefox 2.0, the technology world is intently focused on how these new platforms have increased security.

One of the main security draws for both Firefox and Internet Explorer is the inclusion of phishing protection.

Phishing is the act of soliciting personal information from users by illicit means. The most common form online comes through e-mail queries for private information, normally from official-looking sources.

Internet Explorer and Firefox both purport to recognize and have the ability to block fraudulent sites associated with phishing.

Andrew Odlyzko, the University’s Digital Technology Center director, said phishing has become a large issue in recent years and is now the biggest threat for the average internet user.

Internet Explorer has been harshly criticized over the years for security flaws, but Odlyzko said it is unclear whether Internet Explorer is less secure than Firefox or Opera, a moderately popular Internet browser.

“Given so many more people run Internet Explorer, there is a greater motivation for the bad guys to figure out ways to exploit those weaknesses,” he said. “In that sense, you’ve got some protection by staying away from Internet Explorer, but there’s not a big difference overall.”

Internet Explorer has reigned supreme in the browser wars for years. Even with stiff competition from Firefox, it still holds over 80 percent of the market share.

For Matt Finkel, a computer engineering sophomore, Firefox beats out Internet Explorer in both security and philosophy. Unlike Internet Explorer, Firefox is based around open source coding, which means users can see how programs are put together.

Firefox also boasts cross-platform accessibility, which makes it PC- and Macintosh-friendly.

“Internet Explorer is integrated into an operating system full of holes ñ Windows tends to have more security holes because it is a lot more mainstream,” he said. “Therefore people spend more time trying to exploit it.”

Firefox’s open-source ideology is important, Finkle said, because of his current situation.

“I’m in college, I’m poor and that way I don’t have to steal things – I can use them legally,” he said.

In an attempt to sell next-generation browsers, the likes of Microsoft and Mozilla boast of their security improvements. While the improvements may be profound, user scrutiny will go a long way to prevent identity theft.

Bill Dane, an attorney with Student Legal Service, said the University has not seen a lot of students trapped in phishing scams.

“Hopefully that means our students are fairly sophisticated about this and understand you just can’t give information to anyone who asks online,” he said. “If you do give that kind of info out, you need to act instantly.”

As technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the scams, Dane said.

“This battle is really going back and forth, but the companies that supply the browsers have a hard task keeping up with the people who are using all their time to develop scams – they are getting better and better and looking more legitimate every time,” he said.

A third competitor

In the world of Windows-based PCs, Internet Explorer rules, with Firefox as an upcoming competitor. But other competitors are out vying for both the savvy and non-technical Internet user.

Opera is a cross-platform and device competitor of Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Although Opera occupies less than 1 percent of the market share for Internet browsers, it is steadily gaining ground on mobile devices, like cellular phones and the Nintendo DS.

Michelle Valdivia Lien, Opera’s marketing communications manager for the Americas, said Opera’s main draws are speed, security and device interoperability.

“Going forward, the benefit to people using Opera will be the fact it will be the same Internet experience on any device they use to access the Internet,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before more people start using the Internet and new Internet-enabled devices.”