Is Firefox More Secure?

Category: Browsers , Security

Is Firefox more secure than Internet Explorer? Perhaps, for now, but they seem to be catching up in terms of the numbers of critical flaws discovered. And if you're running Windows Vista, the Firefox security problem gets worse...

firefox security

Firefox Security Hole on Vista

The recent ANI (animated cursor) exploit that has been talked about so much in security and tech forums was first believed to affect only Internet Explorer V7. Firefox fans wagged their fingers at IE users once again and chided them for not switching to the "more secure" Firefox. But it turns out that Firefox is also vulnerable to this very serious exploit on Windows Vista systems. And even worse, the bug is potentially MORE destructive on Firefox than with IE7.

That's because Firefox does not support Protected Mode in Windows Vista -- a feature that can prevent malware from modifying or deleting your data. It may be a small consolation, but Protected Mode limits rogue programs to a read-only mode of access to your hard drive. Without Protected Mode, viruses, spyware and other nasties can do much more damage when they gain access to your system. Protected Mode is crucial to security, but Mozilla (the developers of Firefox) won't even say if or when they will add support for it.

George Ou, in his Real World IT column says "I have asked Mozilla PR and its developers many times if and when it intends to support Protected Mode, and I have yet to receive an answer. This is unfortunate because Firefox alone in recent months has had more exploits than Windows XP and Vista combined and is in serious need of mitigation measures, not to mention better code auditing... If Mozilla ever wants Firefox to be taken seriously, it's going to need to do better auditing of its code and implement security measures that are available in the operating system."

And this isn't just about the ANI flaw. As recently as March 6th, a batch of Firefox security fixes rated Highly Critical was released. The batch addressed multiple vulnerabilities which, according to the Secunia security advisory, "can be exploited by malicious people to bypass certain security restrictions, conduct cross-site scripting and spoofing attacks, gain knowledge of sensitive information, and potentially compromise a user's system."

I don't say any of this to diss Firefox. On the contrary, I use it every day and prefer it over IE7. But that's because of it's flexibility, not because I think it's more secure. Do you have comments or questions about Firefox security? Post your thoughts below...

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Most recent comments on "Is Firefox More Secure?"

Posted by:

17 Apr 2007

It sounds to me like the security flaw is in Vista, not the browser. So I would assume that the same thing could be accomplished in Opera, Netscape, etc. But since the problem can be handled in IE7, I wouldn't expect it to have a high priority at MS.

Personally, I use both Firefox (primarily) & IE7, but on an XP system. Like you, my choice is based on performance, not security. And one of the first bits of advice I ever received was to use a limited user account for your day-to-day tasks, limiting the damage that can be done anyway.

Posted by:

17 Apr 2007

Given this, I have to say that vista is not the product microsoft intended it to be. I could continue about why I switched back to Win XP, but this is not the place to do so.

Posted by:

17 Apr 2007

If your operating system has a vulnerability, Firefox won't protect you from it. But at least it isn't interwoven into the OS the way IE is. So that alone makes it much more secure than IE.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Perhaps but that does make the problem of Firefox's lack of support for Protected Mode go away...

Posted by:

18 Apr 2007

If one can avoid buying Vista, avoid buying Vista. XP is stable and relatively secure, and MS isn't abandoning it until 2008. By then, perhaps SP1 will be out for Vista and it might be better than it is now. As it stands, I won't be buying Vista any time soon. I have a MacBook and love it. For my Windoze needs, I have Parallels running WinXP. Oh yes, I use FF, not IE.

Posted by:

Richard Dengrove
21 Apr 2007

I hear Firefox has always been more vulnerable than IE, but fewer people use it and it isn't the big kid on the block. Thus, it is a less tempting target for hackers. Also, I hear the Mac is even more vulnerable, but for the same reason rarely gets attacked.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2008

I've enjoyed Firefox because of it's editing properties in on a website, like this one; however, it still concerns me because it slows down my system. I watch my usage, so it's a very real though minor problem; never the less, I wonder why.

Secondly, with IE7s huge security breach this month, I'm uncomfortable about going back to it. I'd still like to utilize some editing in a browser. Would it help to program Firefox to close each window tab once we move on to another URL?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think most people would like that... multiple open tabs is probably the primary benefit of the tabbed browsing feature.

Posted by:

13 Oct 2010

You are right about firefox. Firefox are crooks while internet explorer is basically genuine if they do some little improvement. Using firefox is hopeless & time wasting in this modern world.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Wow... Firefox is the Bad Guy, and Microsoft is suddently Not Evil? Alert the press!

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