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Stop using Internet Explorer immediately

Lance Gallop | Friday, January 28, 2005

Originally I had planed on putting together a leftist analysis of what many are now calling Bush’s Freedom Address – your standard over-intellectualized, self-aggrandizing Viewpoint ego-massage, really. Unfortunately, in the interim something important came along, and my conscience would not allow me to continue with that route.

Stop using Internet Explorer. Stop using it this day, this hour, this minute and never look back. Internet Explorer had so many flaws – fundamental flaws, not superficial or easily fixable mistakes – that it represents a serious risk to you, to your computer, to any network you are on and in fact to every person on the Internet. Without any doubt, IE is the number one preventable cause of malicious software, such as viruses and spyware; it has proven this time and time again to the cost of tens of billions of dollars.

This is my advice to you, this is also the advice of the Department of Homeland Security, and, earlier this month when the most critical IE security hole ever discovered was announced – a hole that gives a Web site complete control over your computer without anything being clicked – this was nearly the advice of the OIT. For reasons I cannot fathom, they backed away from their announcement when a hastily crafted patch was released. But this patch doesn’t change the baseline issue – IE has failed us, and should no longer be trusted.

The conclusions of the OIT were this: you must use IE for 1) Irishlink class scheduling and 2) some of Notre Dame’s internal sites that students, to my knowledge, do not use. This amounts, for a student, to perhaps three times per year when Internet Explorer is actually required. There is absolutely no excuse, in other words, for continuing to use software that is the computer equivalent of unprotected sex with a third world prostitute.

The danger has never been so great. There is a thriving black market for compromised computers, bought and sold for trivial amounts of money (because of the enormous supply). The buyers are spammers and child pornography traffickers, hackers and the Russian Mafia. More and more, viruses are not the product of teenage hobbyists, but well-crafted commissions. The purchasers get free bandwidth at your expense, and the knowledge that their dealings will be traced to you. There is a great deal of money to be made in breaking in to your computer, and the actions of the buyers become more sinister with each passing day.

Fortunately, there is another way.

For a year and a half I have been a user of Mozilla Firefox. In that time I have encountered zero viruses (although I do take other precautions), less than a dozen pieces of spyware and seven popup ads. Firefox is fundamentally different from Internet Explorer, although it displays Web pages in the same way, and it lacks many of the design decisions that make IE security Swiss cheese. It has a popup blocker that does an incredible job – for this alone it is worth switching – it is designed to be very easy to use coming off of IE, it installs in less than 3 minutes, including download, and it imports all of your IE favorites automatically. If you are serious about security, or you just hate spyware and popups, I recommend Firefox.

You can probably tell from that plug that I am a Firefox advocate. You are welcome to use Firefox, but you are also welcome to hate it; it does not change the underlying point. Find a Web browser that suits your needs, it doesn’t matter which browser you use, so long as it is not Internet Explorer. This is not about hating or liking Microsoft, it is not about hating or liking Firefox, it is about common sense, and not putting your trust in software that has betrayed that trust dozens of times.

You can download Firefox at http://www.getfirefox.com. Another alternative is Netscape 7, which is runs on the same core as Firefox, but is bulkier and can be found at http://www.netscape.com.

Lance Gallop is a fifth-year senior majoring in computer science, philosophy, and theology. He welcomes comments and criticisms, but please do not send requests for technical support. He can be reached at lgallop@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.