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Internet Explorer becomes Korean election issue

Presidential candidate promises to kill crypto standard locking nation into IE

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Microsoft’s Internet Explorer market share may soon take a tumble in South Korea if presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo wins looming elections. The hot seat hopeful plans to abolish an anachronistic government crypto standard which has effectively locked users into Internet Explorer for over a decade.

At the tail end of the 1990s, the Korean government decided in its wisdom to develop a home-grown 128-bit SSL encryption standard to increase security around e-commerce.

SEED, as it was known, was then mandated for all online transactions.

The only problem with this new system was that it requires users to install Microsoft ActiveX plug-in to work and therefore needs Internet Explorer.

The result: a decade-long monopoly for IE as banking, shopping and other transactional sites were optimised specifically and exclusively for the Microsoft browser.

Although SEED was made non-mandatory back in 2010, its use is still widespread because the government-led approvals process for alternatives is so rigorous, according to Korea Times.

In the meantime, Internet Explorer market share in South Korea stands at a whopping 75 per cent as of October, with nearest rival Chrome down on 17 per cent, according to StatCounter. By contrast, IE is on just 26 per cent in Europe.

Protest group OpenWeb, which has challenged the Korean government over SEED in the courts, argues that the situation is not just anti-competitive and a massive hassle for individual users but also provides huge challenges to home-grown internet start-ups.

It said the following in a blog post:

Web pages riddled with quirks and bugs threaten end-users’ web accessibility. They are ‘enemies’ of free, open and fair internet. However, a country’s institutional and regulatory frameworks may also be mired with quirks and bugs. They threaten competing software companies’ market access to the country. Local software companies suffer as well. End-users, too.

Presidential hopeful Ahn set out his plans on Monday to support alternatives to SEED and put an end to the isolationist certificate system, according to the Wall Street Journal.

He should know what he’s talking about in the security space too, as the founder of popular Korean AV firm Ahn Lab.

The only threat to the plans could be his status as presidential hopeful.

The latest reports suggest independent candidate Ahn could be set to join forces with opposition party candidate Moon Jae In in a bid to stop ruling party candidate Park Geun Hye from winning election. ®

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