Over the years there has been a lot of arguments over which web browser you should be using. A lot of the things you’ll be told about your current web browser are probably wrong, and the reasons you’ll be given to switch will really boil down to preference. So today, I’ll give you some real* information about browsers:

Internet Explorer:
The browser that everyone loves to hate. However, it’s not nearly as bad as everyone would have you believe. It’s gradual fall from glory is mostly due to a successful slash campaign by the Firefox fanboys and that most exploits are written with IE in mind.

Pros:

  • Comes with windows based platforms.
  • It’s a commercially supported product made by a global company

Cons:

  • It’s rather bulky and takes quite a bit of ram to run these days.
  • It’s made by Microsoft, so therefore uncool to use… even/especially if you have an Xbox 360 sitting under your TV.
  • Least secure browser

FireFox:
This used to be the secure web browser of choice, before it became popular. Unfortunately as it’s become more popular, its “security by obscurity” has worn off. In objective security tests over the last 3 years it has continually under-performed everything except Internet Explorer.

Pros:

  • It’s the cool browser to use.
  • Multi-Platform
  • Free
  • Updated often
  • Highly customizable: specifically there is a wealth of established plug-in support for FF.

Cons:

  • Not nearly as secure as it’s advocates would have you believe.  Continually ranks just above IE in objective security tests.
  • Not as underground as it used to be, so please make sure to use it ironically.
  • While better optimized for memory usage than IE, it’s still among the more memory hungry browsers out there these days.
  • One of the worst at operating system integrating (other than Linux).

Opera:
Opera is a lesser known browser put out by Opera Software and is heralded for being one of the most secure web browsers out there. In reality, this is only partially true. Security wise it’s only slightly better than FireFox but generally has two things going for it that FireFox doesn’t: First, it’s more obscure so fewer people are looking for exploits Opera in mind. And second, Opera’s turn around time for new exploit patching is 1/3rd that of Firefox and 1/10th that of IE.

Pros:

  • Security by obscurity.  By being a browser of lesser popularity, less exploits are being actively found and used by the Malware community
  • Patching of exploits for Opera is among the fastest in the industry.
  • Free
  • Memory footprint is smaller than either IE or Firefox.

Cons:

  • Tends not to be as compatible with all web based formats as other browsers
  • Lots of things are disabled by default and requires some configuring to get it working as best it should.
  • Plugin support is sub-par when compared to other browsers.

Safari:
Safari is the Macintosh browser originally released for Mac OS only, but recently updated to also install in a Windows environment. Safari is one of the champions of “security by obscurity”, mostly because the majority of of people who use Safari are on Macs, and very few people write viruses/malware for Mac.

Pros:

  • One of the more secure browsers out there, mostly due to the small browser share and high percentage of Mac users in its installation base.
  • Mac users have it installed by default
  • Very good memory usage and speed

Cons:

  • Patch release turn around is the second longest, about half of IE but still double that of fire fox.
  • Plugin and extension support is rather weak, one of the weakest out there as it only recently added support.
  • Windows integration is rather poor, as it’s primarily designed to integrate with Mac.

Chrome:
The current “up and comer” browser. In the last two years it has wrestled away 16% of the market share for browsers. And since Google is still trying to prove itself in the market, security support tends to be very good.

Pros:

  • One of the most secure browsers out there with the shortest turn around for security patches
  • Decent plug-in and extension support; though it’s recent implementation limits the number of plugins available.
  • One of the sleekest and fastest browsers out there; its memory foot print remains one of the smallest. This speed is due in no small part to the browser utilizing the fastest JavaScript engine out there.
  • Free

Cons:

  • Unproven long term support.  It’s a relatively new product, so longer term support may flag as Google gets more comfortable with their place in the market.
  • There is a modest amount of data mining by Chrome.  Search terms are captured to provide focused advertisements
  • Provided by the evil Google company.
  • Flash integration and support is hit or miss depending on what you’re trying to run

SRWARE IRON:
My current favorite browser. It’s built on the Chrome open source code, but with the data mining portions pruned out. It’s also been optimized beyond what Chrome is.

Pros:

  • The sleek, fast, and simple interface of Chrome without the privacy invasion; inclusive of plugin and extension support
  • Free
  • It’s so underground, you’ve probably never heard of it.
  • Updated and patched as often as Chrome

Cons:

  • Released and supported by a third party company with no established record of long term ability to support the browser
  • Compatibility with flash is still sub-par.

And that’s pretty much it. The take home message is: security wise, FireFox is not as great as people think. It’s too often used as a band-aid by the home IT world to prevent computer infection, when really a more solid solution should be explored (real time anti-virus protection with malware prevention and periodic scans). In the grand scheme of things, FireFox IS better than internet explorer in almost all areas; but when compared to other browsers, the hype doesn’t hold up very well. And really, crutching on browser security is a pretty bad idea. If you’re going to be part of the online world, you need a solid anti-virus and anti-malware strategy. Browser security is a good front-line defense, but it shouldn’t be your only defense. Not by a long shot.

There are less popular and lesser known browsers out there beyond what I have above, but I wanted to hit the big ones. If I hit every browser out there, this post would go on almost forever.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

*As unclouded by the desire to follow the crowd and be cool as possible… while maintaining my hipster love of SRWare Iron.

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