Good Eye, Bad News
On the heels of the Heartbleed Bug comes another disturbing discovery that highlights the importance of Internet safety. On April 26, Internet security software company, FireEye Research Labs, announced that it had uncovered a security flaw present in web browser, Internet Explorer (IE), versions 6 through 11. FireEye had identified instances of hackers taking advantage of the vulnerability to commit a series of attacks on IE 9 and 10 as part of a larger campaign called, “Operation Clandestine Fox.” You do not have to be Jack Hanna to know that nothing is sneakier than a clandestine fox and the campaign certainly lived up to its title. First, hackers hid a corrupted Adobe Flash file in an unassuming website and waited. When the victim visited the website and clicked a link, the file infected their computer.
It seems the hackers chose to target IE users in part because there are so many of them. IE is one of the most widely used internet browsers, with a version of it installed before purchase on all Windows PCs and about 10% of all PCs running IE as their primary browser. IE is especially popular among military defense and financial institutions, thought to be Operation Clandestine Fox’s initial targets, though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security cautioned that no IE user was safe and advised all Americans not to use IE until a fix for the vulnerability was found. On May 1st, Microsoft announced that it was releasing a patch for all affected versions of IE, even for Windows XP users, who feared they would be excluded from the patch after Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in April.
Perhaps you are reading this very article in IE. After all, the aforementioned security issue has been resolved. If Operation Clandestine Fox were the only reason to switch from IE to another web browser, you might have a case. However, in addition to everything this latest IE incident implies, there are several other valid reasons to make the switch. SLICE breaks them down for you!
Why You Should (Internet) Explore Other Options
Let us count the ways:
1. IE is Too Mainstream
Remember, IE’s longstanding popularity is one of the main reasons it became the target of Operation Clandestine Fox. Take a page from The Hipster Handbook and switch to a more obscure web browser to reduce your chances of falling victim to future attacks. Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera are great, underutilized alternatives.
2. Microsoft is Slow to Fix IE Bugs
Microsoft’s notoriously slow reaction time is another reason IE has become a hacker magnet. For example, its penultimate release of IE patches included a fix for a bug the company had been aware of for six months.
3. IE Interprets Code Differently
It is all too common for a web designer to open their latest creation in Google Chrome, Safari, and other web browsers and beam with pride at the results of their hard work, only to open the same website in IE and frown. Microsoft’s refusal to design IE to adhere to the code interpretation standards most browsers uphold means the websites you view in IE are frequently distorted, low quality versions.
4. IE Does Not Offer Automatic Updates
Out-of-date plug-ins are one of hackers’ favorite avenues of incursion. Unlike IE, web browsers Firefox and Google Chrome automatically check for out-of-date plug-ins/extensions and remind you to update them. Chrome takes security a step further by relegating commonly attacked plug-ins to a safe area of your computer, called a “sandbox” so that if they are compromised, the plug-ins cannot do any damage.
5. IE Is Incapable of Bookmark Synchronization
Another area where Firefox and Google Chrome outshine IE is bookmark synchronization. Firefox and Chrome are both capable of bookmark synchronization between different versions of the browsers, whereas all versions of IE prior to 8 are incapable of this. Anyone who has told their friends all about a funny video they saw before fruitlessly searching the Internet for it in front of said friends can attest to the importance of this browser feature.
6. IE is Incompatible with Apple Products
Whereas a Windows compatible Safari exists, Microsoft has not released a version of IE compatible with Mac in over a decade. As the popularity of Apple’s mobile gadgets, like its iPad, continues to grow, IE is in danger of becoming obsolete.
7. The Obvious
Operation Clandestine Fox was a scary situation. Even if you were not a target, the media coverage the discovery of the attack attracted meant that IE’s security flaw became public knowledge. This exposure combined with Microsoft’s failure to swiftly release a patch for the vulnerability was a boon for hackers from all corners of the Internet. Given all of IE’s flaws, it is very likely that the browser will be the target of similar attacks in the future. Get out while you can!
Despite its popularity, IE is a low quality web browser with inadequate security. Now that you know the truth, it is time to upgrade!