Internet Explorer is dangerous

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4 out of 5 people use Microsoft Internet Explorer as their web browser. Internet Explorer frequently presents critical security risks to systems that use it, allowing malicious websites to hijack their computers, infect them with viruses, and conduct identity theft, and its lack of technology support has driven up the cost of web development and stifled innovation.

It is in the best interest of all Internet users to stop using Internet Explorer as soon as possible!

There are free alternatives that offer quality as good or better than Internet Explorer. The following article will explain in greater depth the problems with Internet Explorer and what the alternatives are.

This article has been abridged. The full version is available.

Why switch from Internet Explorer?

Unsafe

Internet Explorer is the single most actively exploited piece of software on most computers. A majority of computer spyware and adware makes its way onto your computer through its security holes. Once your computer is hit with a spyware or adware attack, Microsoft says the only solution may be to dump your system and start from scratch.

These security holes are due to fundamental flaws in the design of Internet Explorer, as well as Microsoft's slow and ineffective security response process. According to a Security Fix study, a fully-updated Internet Explorer was found to be “unsafe” for 78% of the year 2006, while its main competitor, Firefox, was “unsafe” for only 2% of the year. In May 2006, PC World named Internet Explorer the 8th worst tech product of all time, stating that it “might be the least secure software on the planet”. Through Internet Explorer, you could have your identity stolen and your bank account wiped clean, or your system could be destroyed and all of your important files deleted.

The following is a brief summary of the vulnerability levels in the three most popular web browsers. The information was collected from Secunia, a leading computer software security monitoring company. The vulnerability information was last updated February 10, 2009. For more details, see the Web browser security summary resource.

Security vulnerabilities
Aspect Internet Explorer Firefox Safari Opera
Highest values at one time
Vulnerability reports 39 9 2 4
Vulnerability issues 41 13 3 8
Relative danger 204 44 20 27
Present values
Vulnerability reports 38 5 2 1
Vulnerability issues 40 6 3 1
Relative danger 161 19 8 1

It is also important to consider how quickly each web browser fixes its vulnerabilities. The following table lists the average time taken to fix each vulnerability. Values listed are in days.

Patch delay (in days)
Average Internet Explorer Firefox Safari Opera
Per vulnerability report
Overall mean 2386 628 1736 204
Overall median 3477 42 1715 35
High severity mean 293 13 21 8
High severity median 53 10 21 8
Weighted by relative danger
Overall mean 1681 524 1164 119
Overall median 121 23 23 23
High severity mean 269 13 21 7
High severity median 52 10 21 1

The following graph illustrates the present relative danger in each browser over time. Higher levels mean greater danger. The graph spans from February 9, 2004 to today.

A graph showing the relative cumulative danger of security vulnerabilities over time in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera.

Primitive

In today's fast growing Internet world, we are seeing a greater demand for web applications that are both powerful and versatile. This calls for new technologies to be developed, and quickly. In order to create and organize these new technologies, a standards body called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) formed. Their members include people from many of the world's largest technology companies, all working together to develop technology standards that will take the Internet to the next level and beyond.

Unfortunately, in the last several years, one of the most significant members of the W3C has failed to adopt the very standards that it helped to create. Microsoft, feeling confident with Internet Explorer holding over 90% of the market, stopped adding the new technological developments to its web browser. With Microsoft's incredible weight in the market and unwillingness to develop their browser, these technologies have been unable to see the light of day.

By 2006, Internet Explorer had fallen nearly a decade behind in Internet technology. Practically all of the standards that it supports are met and exceeded by other competing browsers, who are now diving deep into a new world of Internet technology that Internet Explorer has yet to touch. While Internet Explorer is in high use, web developers are forced to either stay with outdated technology, often costing them double or triple the time and money, or turn away a majority of their potential visitors.

The following table is a summary of web technology support among the three most popular web browsers, including the new version of Internet Explorer (IE 7).

Standards support
Technology IE 6 IE 7 Firefox 2 Firefox 3 Opera 9
HTML / XHTML 73% 73% 90% 90% 85%
CSS 2.1 51% 57% 92% 93% 94%
DOM 50% 51% 79% ? 84%

What alternatives are there?

Luckily, there are several good alternatives to Internet Explorer, and all of the major ones are available completely free of charge.

Firefox

Firefox is a new free web browser that is quickly gaining massive popularity and a lot of media attention. It is all-around safer, easier, and more useful than Internet Explorer. Since its premier in November 2004, it has been downloaded over 300 million times and is now used by 10% - 20% of the public.

On top of popular modern features like tabbed browsing, phishing protection, and popup blocking, Firefox offers a wide range of features not available in Internet Explorer:

Switching to Firefox is easy. Your Favorites, passwords, and other settings from Internet Explorer are carried on to Firefox automatically, so you don't need to worry about losing anything. Setup is quick and easy, and no technical skills are required to get Firefox running on your system.

Here are some official Instructions for switching from Internet Explorer to Firefox.

Get Firefox!

Opera

If you're looking for a second option, try out Opera. Opera is very small and lightweight, yet is packed with useful features. Like Firefox, it offers tabbed browsing, phishing protection, popup blocking, and better security, and it's also completely free.

Although Opera doesn't have the robust extension system that Firefox offers, it comes with many more features right out of the box:

Here are some official Instructions for switching from Internet Explorer to Opera.

Get Opera!

Flock

Flock is a free cutting-edge social web browser that is based on Firefox and optimized for blogging, newsreading, sharing photos, and generally making the most of the modern Web. If you are regularly involved in these kinds of social aspects of the Web, Flock may prove to be an ideal out-of-the-box browser for you. Like Firefox, Flock supports its own brand of over a hundred extensions that can further enhance your Web experience.

Get Flock!

How do I set up these browsers?

Setting them up is a snap. Just go to the website and follow the download link. Open the file that you download (either by clicking “Run” or “Open” at the start of the download or by double-clicking the program icon when it's done), and you'll be given a simple installation screen. From there, you can just agree to everything that comes up and it'll all work out nicely. If you find that you don't like it and want to go back to Internet Explorer, all you have to do is start up Internet Explorer like you normally do. Installing a different web browser will not break or replace your old one, so there's no reason not to give one of the alternative browsers a try.

After you've installed the browser, make sure you click on the right icon to start it up. You don't want to click on the blue “e” anymore. The Firefox icon looks like an orange fox wrapped around a globe, Opera looks like a red “O”, and Flock looks like a flock of little blue blobs.

What if a website doesn't work in an alternative browser?

Modern alternative browsers like those listed above very rarely have problems with websites. They adhere closely to the web technology standards, meaning that all websites should look and function more or less the same in all browsers.

On occasion, you might come across a website that doesn't look correct in an alternative browser. Most often, it is because the website wasn't written correctly, not because of a fault of the browser. If you experience a problem, it is best to contact the website administration and inform them. They should be embarrased for shutting out a significant and growing percentage of their potential visitors due to not following the established web standards. In fact, in some cases it is illegal for a business website or a government website to not work properly in these alternative browsers.

How to direct Internet Explorer users to this information

If you own a website and are familiar with server-side scripting, you may redirect Internet Explorer users to <http://www.webdevout.net/browser-warning?forward_uri=location> where location is the URL of the document that the user attempted to access, but without the redirect. Note that the entire location, including any query parameters, must be stored within the forward_uri parameter, so be sure to encode it properly.

You may also limit this warning message to occurring only once per browsing session. It is recommended that you do this from your website, but if that isn't possible, you may instead add &once to the end of the request for this page to achieve that effect. This will only work properly for users that accept cookies.

If your website supports PHP, you may use my prebuilt script for detecting and redirecting Internet Explorer users. Follow the instructions in readme.txt.

Alternatively, you may use the basic informative version by linking to <http://www.webdevout.net/ie-is-dangerous>. It is recommended that you use the previous method for automatic redirections.

If you have further questions, you may direct them to dhammond@webdevout.net. I encourage website owners to spread this message, and I am flexible with the use of this document. This article is under a very generous Creative Commons License and you may reproduce it and modify it under the stated terms.