Benjamin Christie | 19/12/2008
By now you have probably heard of the critical Internet Explorer security issue that was reveled earlier in the week. The situation is nothing new. Hackers place an exploit on vulnerable websites using SQL injection techniques. This exploit then waits for users who visit the site with Internet Explorer, monitoring their activity and stealing passwords. This occurrence seems so commonplace these days that you may have initially disregarded the warning. However, this time was different. In the past, vulnerable websites were generally limited to questionable or unknown sites. This time around the exploit has been found on numerous legitimate and mainstream websites. As of Monday, Microsoft estimated that 1 out of every 500 Windows users had visited a website containing the exploit. The situation has become so serious that several top security companies, such as Trend Micro, have recommended that users switch Internet browsers until the issue is resolved. This is a very unusual move for companies that generally remain neutral in these situations.
The real question is how this incident will impact the browser market share. Mozilla’s FireFox seems to be the top recommendation as an alternative. FireFox capitalized on the opportunity by creating a page on how to switch from Internet Explorer to FireFox. Mozilla’s browser has been making a steady gain on Internet Explorer for several years. It’s too early to tell how the numbers will work out but there is little doubt that Internet Explorer usage will noticeably suffer.
This incident is introducing FireFox to a new group of users. Traditionally, FireFox has been most popular with technically savvy users. Average home users, especially those with a Windows operating system, were more likely to use Internet Explorer. With strong recommendations to switch coming from reputable security companies, many in this group have given FireFox a try. Although the recommendations were to switch only until the situation was resolved, the change may become permanent for users who find they prefer the features in FireFox over Internet Explorer.
By now, Microsoft has developed an emergency patch and has distributed it through various channels and automatic updates. Although this will ease the fears of some, others who are becoming increasingly leery of Internet Explorer’s track record with security may choose to forgo IE altogether. While a security issue is never good for any application, Microsoft may find this one particularly damaging when the dust finally settles.
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