Internet Access and the Browser

One program that almost everyone with access to the internet uses is a web browser. Apart from an email program it is the most used program for accessing the internet and many people don't think of email when they think of the internet. To many people what appears in their web browser is the internet.

To many people using Windows the internet is that big blue E icon on their desktop that opens whichever version of Internet Explorer that their operating system came with. These people do not realise that Internet Explorer is just one of many possible web browsers that can be used to access the internet. They are also unaware that web browsers are often upgraded to both fix security holes and to bring the browser closer to complying with the current web standards.Unfortunately this means that there are lots of people who are running a really old version of Internet Explore that has been superceded long ago and which not only doesn't come remotely close to supporting current standards but which also contains hundreds of known security holes meaning that their computer has probably also been seriously compromised by trojans and viruses.

There are a few situations where there is a legitimate reason for continuing to run a long outdated version of Internet Explorer . The main one is where a company intranet relies on the way that older versions of IE worked where the company has not yet had time to upgrade their intranet to work with more modern browsers. In such cases the security features built into their overall system should be sufficient that the security holes in the browser do not matter since nothing is going to get past the other security.

The same is not true of most home systems where few people consider all of the essential aspects of security and therefore while covering themselves against the obvious threats leave their computer open to the more destructive but less obvious ones.

Those running outdated versions of Internet Explorer at home can be divided into two groups - those running a version of Windows that supports the latest version of Internet Explorer and those running an older no longer supported version of Windows which doesn't support the latest Internet Explorer. Those in the latter group have an excuse for not upgrading to the latest version of IE but they don't have an excuse for continuing to use their outdated version of Internet Explorer (apart from their ignorance in not being aware that other browsers exist). There are in fact hundreds if not thousands of alternative browsers and even if we look only at the most popular five or six different browsers there are at least some of those which have versions that while not the latest version of that browser are still far more compliant to the standards and have far fewer known security holes in them than the version of Internet Explorer that the person is currently running. By switching to using one of those alternative browsers.

For those running a version of Windows at home that is capable of running the latest version of Internet Explorer the only excuse for not doing so is ignorance that there is an upgrade available. Even where someone prefers to use a different browser there are still some functions within Windows itself that will use Internet Explorer rather than the default browser - for example Windows Update can only be run that way as other browsers do not have the access to the system to be able to apply the updates that are downloaded.

Another difference between Internet Explorer and other web browsers is that all of the other major brwsers (and probably all the minor ones as well) have an update option built in where the browser will tell people when a new version becomes available and offers them the opportunity to keep up to date. Internet Explorer relies on Windows Update to present browser updates and Microsoft is not forcing such updates for some unexplained reason (which has nothing to do with the businesses reliant on old versions of the browser as Microsoft provide a way for them to selectively block such updates). For this reason many web sites are now providing the upgrade link themselves to encourage those using old versions of Internet Explorer who may be unaware that their browser is out of date with a link to download the latest version. At least by sharing that information it helps to reduce the number of people who are running outdated browsers full of security holes through ignorance that there is any alternative.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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