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Softpanorama Bulletin
Vol 24, No. 02 (February, 2012)

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For the pluralism in WEB browsers

Use IE in high security setting for Internet zone, add you favorites to trusted sites list and use Firefox for sites that requires less strict settings then that

Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov

Contents

Abstract

You can slightly improve safety of your browsing (and increase your troubles ;-) by setting IE to high security in internet zone and setting  medium level for "trusted sites" (say Amazon, Hotmail, Youtube)  and/or using Firefox for important for all other sites that does not display correctly with this arrangement (including all downloads). 

Among recommended setting:


Introduction

This paper is written first for my own consumption -- in order to understand better security issues in IE and Firefox. What I discovered with some dismay that most users, including myself are by-and-large ignorant as for security mechanism available in browsers and do not understand the features of provided mechanism, for example "In private browsing mode in IE. Gradually I started to understand that using two browser instead of one represent cheap and effective security mechanism in itself almost without detailed considerations of  strong or weak points for each browser. I chose IE as my "secure browser" simply because it is very easy to do so -- you just enable high security mode in it.  In less secure modes that allows running Active-X it proved to be an open door for malware. Then I created a keyboard macro that copes URL to the Firefox and each time I accidentally hit the site on which I need run scripts I used this macro to switch to Firefox.

After several refinements my initial notes written for myself acquire shape in which they might benefit others as well. Please take into account that this is still quite raw notes.

We will discuss the IE version 8 and Firefox version 14. These versions are definitely preferable to older one although IE 9 should probably be used on Windows 7.

As with any product the real issues are the level of technologies used against malware. Currently IE provides better environment for browsing in "high security mode". Firefox has add-ons NoScript that provides more granular per site controls. With NoScript, I can allow individual sites that I trust to run script content in my browser only when I need it, while defaulting to disallowing scripts for all others. This is more difficult to do in IE. You need explicitly put sites in high security zone to prohibit running scripts and that should be your default security stetting for Internet zone (Web is a dangerous place with the among of malware now circulating, and your setting should reflect this simple fact).  Default setting for trusted sites (which I understand as sites included as your favorites) should be medium-high. Any important site that "is uncomfortable" with those settings can be viewed in Firefox. 

Firefox also remains lower profile target then IE. Although share of IE dropped recently, this low profile status of Firefox still is preserved. It's still a lower profile target than IE. As many exploits are Adobe acrobat and other plug-ins exploits this does not buy you much security but being lower profile target is always good. As for built-in security feature Firefox remains by-and-large stagnant and IE is a better choice as for built-in protections.

Also Firefox developers are open source developers and as such they generally resent collecting information about the users so it is more suitable browser for your favorite sites. This is not one of the development goals as in the case with commercial browsers developers. That makes Firefox somewhat better choice then IE from the point of view of privacy,  although IE is not as bad as Chrome.  At one time Google tried to redirect each of the search results to itself  and that means it crossed the creepy line (see How Google crossed the creepy line - Telegraph)

In Google it can ne presented like:

... ... ...

Would be presented in Bing as

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8086191/How-Google-crossed-the-creepy-line.html
As Telegraph aptly put it "Google crossed the creepy line"

In this paper I will argue that using two browsers one (IE) configured with high security and the other Firefox has just NoScript plug-in installed and used to browse trusted sites  provides higher level of security, the level unachievable by a single browser alone.

Both browsers clearly need improvement is certain security-related areas but using them in tandem creates an opportunity to use stronger features of each.



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