Web Browsers & Plugins
A recently-discovered browser flaw could allow hackers to manipulate a site visitor's physical hard drive. At the moment, Mozilla's Firefox is the only browser not affected by the problem.
Ten years ago, the Internet was a different place. Websites were kinder and gentler. Now, many of them want to attack you. It's time to take stock of your Internet browsers and make sure they are as up to date as they can be.
— Windows Secrets
Internet Explorer is so tightly tied into Windows that any vulnerability extends into Windows itself. See the Web Security page for more.
Internet Explorer has been long known to be vulnerable to the covert downloading of software from malicious Web sites…Merely visiting the corrupted site is all it takes.
A vulnerability to drive-by infections in Internet Explorer 6–9: Vulnerability in Internet Explorer Could Allow Remote Code Execution. Switch immediately to another browser.
Install critical update KB 2744842 to patch this vulnerability but I cannot recommend using IE as your primary browser.
Web Browser Downloads
The About Web Browsers section (bottom of this page) describes the function of a browser as well as some of the features that may or may not be included in a particular browser.
The Main Contenders
- Mozilla FireFox is a slim, standards-compliant browser that takes advantage of hardware acceleration. Strongly recommended.
- Windows, Linux and Macintosh are supported. | Troubleshoot problems.
- Firefox overview | Private browsing, sync, tab groups, built-in PDF reader….
- 5000 free addons provide functionality as you need it.
- Firefox Mobile for Android phone or tablet.
- Google Chrome combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier.
- Apple Safari supports the latest Web standards and has numerous features.
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 is available only for Windows 7 or 8.
- IE 9 is available only for Windows 7 or Vista.
- IE 8 is the last version available for XP and the first version of Internet Explorer to strongly support the web standards that Microsoft has helped to develop over the years.
- IE's behaviour can be controlled by group policy (why it is common in corporate environments).
- It is recommended that all Windows users upgrade to the latest version of IE available for their system (even if you're using Firefox or another browser as your primary browser) because it provides the best security and features.
- Microsoft has also used IE to provide additional functionality in Windows itself.
Beta (or pre-release) versions of various web browsers are sometimes available. This gives developers (and adventurous folks) a chance to preview new features and to determine how they'll work with existing sites and prepare for coming enhancements.
Do not install beta software on production machines and not if you are unsure how to recover from a potential crash. Problems with beta software can include data loss and critical operating system errors.
- Opera is a slim yet full-featured browser.
- Windows, Linux, Macintosh & FreeBSD are supported.
- Opera is the only significant browser that still includes an integrated email program.
- SeaMonkey is a community effort to deliver a production-quality browser suite.
- Windows, Linux & Macintosh are supported. | Known issues.
- SeaMonkey addons provide extra features and styles.
- Whereas the main focus of the Mozilla Foundation is on Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird, this group of dedicated volunteers works to ensure that you can have “everything but the kitchen sink” — and have it stable enough for corporate use.
- SRWare Iron — based on the free Sourcecode “Chromium.”
- Windows, Linux & Macintosh are supported.
- The features of Google Chrome without its privacy and security concerns.
- Chrome v Iron compares features.
- Maxthon does more right out of the box, including free cloud services.
- Avant is a standalone application designed to expand services provided by Microsoft Internet Explorer.
- Windows 2003, 7, Vista & XP are supported.
- Because Avant uses Internet Explorer components, that makes it subject to the same vulnerabilities.
- Avant Browser new technology will release all occupied memory after a tab is closed, fixing issues with memory leaks associated with Ajax techniques.
- Camino — Mozilla power, Mac style.
- Macintosh OS X supported.
- Firefox outfitted with the Mac OS X interface.
- Migrating from Firefox.
- iCab is shareware and costs $20 — highly customizable.
- Lynx is a text-only browser.
- Un*x, VMS, Windows 95/98/NT, on DOS (386 or higher) & OS/2 EMX are supported.
- evolt.org Browser Archive has many of the dozens of browsers that have come and gone over the years.
- Netscape Browser Archive.
- Browser Timelines shows the relative timeline of various key browsers.
These archives are useful primarily to researchers, web designers and others wishing to see how older browsers display current content. Installation of these browsers can corrupt Windows settings (such as earlier versions of Internet Explorer) or not work properly at all. They also lack any security improvements, so using them makes you much more vulnerable to malware and other hazards found on today's websites.
Web Browser Plugins
Plugins are add-in software (helper applications) that enables your web browser to view and hear multimedia content. Not all plugins are supported by all browsers.
- Check to see if your Firefox plugins are up to date.
Website Animation & Video
- Download Adobe Flash | Test your Flash installation | Managing Flash in Firefox | Adobe downloads alternative. Flash update now asks permission for future updates. Selecting Automatic updates to Flash Player is recommended.
- Download Silverlight (Microsoft's Flash alternative — required for NetFlix). Support for Windows and Mac (Intel only) platforms.
- HTML5 Video can be played back on the latest desktop and mobile devices without special plugins — even on older browsers that require Flash.
Java Enhances the Web and Applications
- Download Java | Test your Java installation | What is Java? | Learn more….
- It is recommended that you regularly upgrade to the latest Java version and ensure older ones are removed.
- Java 7 prior to Update 13 contained a known vulnerability. Upgrade or remove Java if you don't need it.
- Apple Quicktime plays most video and audio formats. XP/Vista/7 & MacOS X only.
- RealPlayer plays every major media type for Mac & Windows.
Read PDF Documents
- Adobe Reader reads PDF files with the proper fonts regardless of the operating system that it was created on.
- There are faster alternatives to Adobe Reader if you don't use all of the extensive capabilities built into it:
- Firefox and Chrome browsers have built-in capability to read PDF files.
- Foxit Reader is probably the best known of the free alternatives.
- Sumatra PDF is a free PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader for Windows.
- Nitro Reader includes the ability to create PDFs from over 300 formats.
Most people don't need Shockwave player and should uninstall it. Otherwise run version 126.96.36.1998 or later.
Disable .NET Framework Assistant in Firefox
Microsoft surreptitiously installed the .NET Framework Assistant addin to Mozilla Firefox using Windows Update. Websites can take advantage of this addin to quietly install software without the user's knowledge, making your computer more vulnerable to malware. If the Uninstall button is grayed out or unavailable, follow these instructions.
Extensions: Small Addons
Extensions add new features to Firefox or modify existing ones. They don't simply provide access to "helper" applications like plugins do — they're complete on their own.
Basic Firefox Addons
I add these basic addons to enhance the user experience on most installations:
- Add Bookmark Here2 allows you to place a bookmark exactly where you want it. Simply click "Add bookmark here" in the folder you're viewing.
- IE View allows you to launch the current Firefox page (or link) in Internet Explorer. Especially useful for Microsoft links like the Microsoft Support "Fix it" Solutions.
- Do Not Track Plus stops ad and social networks from secretly tracking your every move.
- BetterPrivacy removes or manages a new and uncommon kind of “permanent” cookies (LSOs or Flash Cookies) set by Google, YouTube, Ebay and others.
Passwords are unavoidable but present a risk to your privacy and security if not properly managed. I use Ultra High Security Password Generator to avoid repetition and LastPass to remember them. These addons help manage passwords:
- Saved Password Editor allows you to edit and create password entries in the Firefox password manager.
- Password Reuse Visualizer allows you to quickly see where you're vulnerable because you're using the same (or similar) passwords on multiple sites.
- LastPass Password Manager is a free online password manager and Form Filler that makes your web browsing easier and more secure. Your sensitive data is encrypted locally before upload so even LastPass cannot get access to it. US$12 per year provides LastPass access for your iPhone or iPad.
Addons for Web Developers
Web developers will want to check out the various Firefox addons for web developers.
Web Browser Tips and Tools
- MozBackup is a freeware program which allows you to create backups of Mozilla, Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird profiles, including your mail, favorites, contacts, etc.
- PwdHash is a Firefox extension which can generate a password based upon the site and your master password, making it unique to that site thereby helping to prevent successful phishing.
- Internet Explorer Tips and Tricks—50 Ways to Tweak Your Browser.
- Bookmarklets are simple tools that extend the surf and search capabilities of web browsers.
Troubleshooting Web Browser Problems
These resources will help you if something goes wrong during the install or operation of your web browser.
- Firefox Help topics.
- Firefox, Thunderbird and Mozilla Suite standard diagnostic.
- Safari Support.
- Opera Support.
- Internet Explorer Support.
- Internet Explorer Help & How-to.
About Web Browsers
Web browsers are multipurpose Internet applications that include the ability to view web sites and often include other functions as well.
What is a browser? will give you a better idea of what a browser does and how you can change various features on them (or even the browser itself).
More Than One Browser to Choose From
Many people mistakenly assume that Internet Explorer and MSN are the Internet since Internet Explorer is included with Windows.
- There are several web browsers to choose from.
- Many browsers offer greater security and functionality than Internet Explorer.
- There have been many other browsers over time.
However, there are many web browsers to choose from — and most offer greater security and functionality than Internet Explorer.
Bringing Together Software for the Web
The web browser brings together all the elements that we've come to consider the Web: stylized text with integrated images, sound and video.
Early web browser suites included other features such as electronic mail (email), chat & instant messaging (IM) and even components that allow you to build a web page (web design software).
More recently, the focus has been on browser speed rather than functions.
This resulted in the slimming down of the browser and allowing people to add functions as they need them using extensions and addons. As a result, the browser itself opens quickly and is more responsive.
Plugins, Extensions and Addons
There are several ways to add features to your web browser of choice and dozens of addons that do everything from customizing the look of your browser to provide specialized tools.
Whenever you add these features into your browser, there is the potential for problems ranging from the inability to start your browser to freezing your browser or computer. The more features and plugins you add, the more memory the program will use and the slower your computer will be.
While it is unusual for something to be released that is dangerous, you might be better letting more experienced individuals discover and report any problems.
- If your computer is used for work or has critical applications, you should be more careful with experimenting.
- Avoid beta (or test) versions because these are more likely to have problems. These are usually indicated with a version number less than 1.0 (e.g. version 0.6).
Be aware of issues with privacy, particularly when adding toolbars because these applications report your usage to their owners.
Integrated or Separated?
At one time most browsers included an email client (program). While this can be convenient,it also means that you are limited to the choices made by the designer of your web browser. More recently, it is rare to include email. Opera and SeaMonkey are exceptions.
The Choice is Yours
Using a separate email client gives you a much wider range of options and features. If you are a heavy user of email, stand-alone email clients will offer a greater range of filtering and other customization options. Some of the stand-alone email programs are worth their price due to the more flexible tools included with them. There are now some excellent free programs as well.
Web browsers and their associated email programs have known security issues that vary from browser to browser (and sometimes depend upon the operating system).
- While the configuration of some devices, including wireless networking, may suggest that you use Internet Explorer, it is strongly recommended that Windows users do NOT use Internet Explorer for their primary browser because of significant security issues.
- Try your main browser to configure these devices before resorting to Internet Explorer by default.
- Don't use any browser other than Internet Explorer for Windows Update (there is a plug-in for Firefox, but you don't want to introduce any vulnerabilities into Firefox).
While some web pages don't display properly using Gecko-based browsers such as Firefox or Chrome, these tend to be the exception and are the result of poorly designed sites, not poorly designed software.
All trademarks, company names or logos used on this page are the property of their respective owners.
More About Related Issues
Protecting Your Online Identity
The following related pages offer more information about protecting your online identity:
- Encryption — Protecting Your Data
- Passwords — Protecting Your Electronic Signature
- Avoiding Spam — Unsolicited Emails and Mailing Lists
- Phishing & Identity Theft — Obtaining Information by Deceit
- Proper Email Address Etiquette — Using To:, CC: & BCC: Correctly
Securing Your Computer
The following related pages offer more information about securing your computer:
- Security Basics — Preventing Unauthorized Access
- Security Strategies — Avoiding Infections
- Firewalls — Your First Line of Defense
- ZoneAlarm Security — Recommended Firewall Products
- Anti-Virus Protection — Current Alerts, Strategies, Hoaxes & Software
- Your Privacy At Risk — Spyware Detection & Removal
- Encryption — Protecting Your Data
- Passwords — Protecting Your Electronic Signature
- Web Security — Vulnerabilities in Internet Software
- Windows Security — Vulnerabilities in Windows
Updated: May 6, 2013