Feeds

Firefox 2.0: happier browsing, but secure?

The jury's still out

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Review It's long past time to bother telling anyone how much better than IE Firefox is. Faster, smaller, more responsive, with tabbed browsing and useful extensions galore. It's also lot more secure than IE, partly because it's open source, and particularly because it's not integrated with the underlying OS.

Firefox's security bugs involve the browser only, and can be fixed quickly and without much fuss. On the other hand, because of its integration with the OS, IE's bugs can involve the system overall, and may need weeks or months to sort out.

Indeed, IE6 was estimated to be vulnerable to exploitation for 284 days last year, even among users who patched it religiously, as we reported recently. In contrast, Firefox was estimated to have left users exposed to unpatched flaws for a total of nine days over the same period. Microsoft's sluggish turnaround with IE's flaws, due chiefly to the vast complexity of the system of which it is a part, is reason enough to recommend Firefox.

Nevertheless, I've long advised security-conscious users to prefer Mozilla to Firefox, in stubborn defiance of the slobbering media infatuation lavished on Firefox. The good news is that recent versions of Firefox are catching up with Mozilla nicely, although there is still some work to be done.

For example, I never liked the way earlier versions of Firefox handled passwords and form data, third party cookies, third party images, cookie expiration, link prefetching, and other configuration issues that affect privacy and security. I also never cared for the way configuration options would change from release to release. It's hard to write about Firefox with an emphasis on security and privacy, or give practical configuration advice, because the developers keep adding configuration options, then discarding them, then reviving them. Mozilla has remained consistent in its excellent set of configuration options, which means that the step-by-step security and privacy setup for Mozilla detailed in my 2004 manual Computer Security for the Home and Small Office is still effective.

Firefox has not shown anything approaching this degree of consistency. For example, on my trusty Linux box, I have Firefox version 1.5.0.4, with a configuration option enabling me to block third party images. On my cursed Windows box, I have Firefox version 2.0.0.1, which lacks this option. It's an important privacy issue, because there are invisible, 1-pixel-square images called web bugs often embedded in web pages by third parties - marketing outfits, usually - which are used to track our web sessions. Marketers prefer to call them "web beacons", but they are, in fact, bugs.

They can be defeated quite easily, by preventing your browser from loading images from sites other than the one you are visiting. Perhaps 2.0.0.1 defaults to loading images only from the websites you visit, but by withdrawing the option, the developers have left me a good deal less confident.

Nevertheless, there have been significant improvements in Firefox 2.x. I am somewhat in favour of the option to clear personal data, which you can configure to clear your browser cache, cookies, browsing history, download history, saved form information, passwords, and authenticated sessions. You can choose any or all of those options, and you can set it to delete this information whenever you close Firefox, or you can do it manually. You can also set it to ask you on exit, and choose not to clear these items whenever that suits you.

Still, I have reservations. This is hardly a secure way to delete these data traces, so no one should allow themselves to get a false sense of security from this option. However, if these files are constantly overwritten each time you open and close the browser, it's at least fairly likely that old data will be overwritten in time, and will not accumulate over long periods. It's better than nothing, but it is something of a privacy gimmick and I'm not behind it wholeheartedly.

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Next Windows obsolescence panic is 450 days from … NOW!
The clock is ticking louder for Windows Server 2003 R2 users
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.