Judging by some of today's headlines, it's tempting to think no Internet browser is safe. Mozilla, which offers a product suite that includes the Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird email program, reported a security flaw yesterday, although within 24 hours, it had issued a patch to plug the hole. Bear in mind, no attack was launched; expecting any browser to lack security holes may be too much to ask.
Mozilla's been one of the Web browsers of choice after the public heard about the most recent browser security scare. That was when the U.S. government's Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) suggested that Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Internet Explorer was just too dangerous to use right now.
Some people are taking that advice to heart -- quite possibly issuing a wake-up call to Mr. Softy in terms of what many consider its historically nonchalant attitude toward security issues. According to Wired and other news sources, daily downloads of Mozilla's products have been increasing since last fall, spiking to more than 200,000 downloads the day after the warning. Other browser providers like Opera have also reported increased interest.
Today's headlines should serve as a reminder that many claim the increasing popularity of any browser will make it an attractive target for Internet villains. However, many technical types defend Mozilla and still fault Microsoft for the security hole; the news on the vulnerability has been kicked around the Fool's Microsoft discussion board.
Out on the Net, reports said Mozilla's flaw only affects Windows XP or 2000 machines, and isn't a problem for people who use Mozilla while running Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) or Linux operating systems. Some argue that the flaw is still intrinsically linked to Windows and XP, and therefore technically a "Microsoft problem." Of course, there's also a certain degree of lauding of Mozilla for the quick response to the vulnerability.
For now, there's a minimum of mischief any evildoers can muster up. For the paranoid, there are still other options for browsing the Web, including Apple's Safari, Opera, and Netscape, now owned by Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) America Online, though again, it's likely nobody can expect a completely secure solution, though popularity is still supposedly one of the biggest draws for hackers.
Regardless, for now Microsoft's hold on the browser market is being chipped at, and maybe it's the most noticeable threat since the Netscape vs. Explorer smackdown many moons ago. Which companies will benefit from a browser shift? And to revisit the opinions long given forth by Mac and open-source fans, will they make stronger strides than Microsoft at offering better Internet security? The answers may be closer than we think.
Has Microsoft been unfairly punished for security problems? Are we about to find out that not one other company will be able to provide any better security? Key up the Microsoft discussion board and talk about the issue.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.