30 March 2008

~Firefox 3-Overview-crossed 500 million downloads~


Since it was originally introduced, the Firefox web browser has proven itself as a worthy and capable web browsing application, and a solid rival to Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer. Firefox has built a loyal and growing fanbase.

Initially, many made the switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox based on hype regarding its superior security. Over time, Firefox has had its share of flaws and vulnerabilities, showing itself to be formidable, but not impenetrable.

The focus of this profile though is not on whether or not the Firefox web browser itself is secure, but rather what features and functionality it offers to you, the user, to protect your computer and your personal information while you surf the web. Firefox 3 incorporates a number of updates aimed at security, including anti-malware functionality, forged web page protection improvements, and integration with the Parental Controls in Windows Vista.

Site Security Details

By clicking on the icon to the left of the URL in the address bar (the "Site Favicon" in Firefox terms), you can reveal detailed information about the page you are viewing or the current site you are visiting.

The details that are displayed include whether or not the connection is encrypted, information about who owns the web site, and whether or not you have ever visited the site previously or have any cookies or saved passwords associated with the site.

Site Permissions Details

Clicking on the Permissions tab at the top of the site details will display the page you see here. This console lets you customize and control what the site, or page, is allowed to do.

Using the options here, you can control whether or not images can be loaded, whether or not pop-up windows are displayed, whether or not cookies can be stored, and whether or not extensions or themes from the site can be loaded.

Security Options

If you click on Tools, then Options, you will open up the Options console for Firefox 3 where you can customize and configure the various options. Click on the Security tab at the top, and you will see the window we have displayed here.

Some of the security options in Firefox 3 include blocking sites from installing Add-Ons, and storing passwords. You can also assign a Master Password that you must enter in order to "unlock" the rest of your passwords for some added security.

While phishing attacks have been around for some time, attackers continue to innovate and devise new attacks. Recently, one of the emerging methods of spreading malware is by exploiting weak or flawed web servers to plant malware on otherwise benign sites- some very well known. Firefox 3 keeps tabs on the sites that have been identified as compromised, and provides warnings to let you know that you may be visiting a suspected attack site.

Firefox 3 will also let you know if the site you are visiting appears to be a forgery of a legitimate site. This feature is strengthened because rather than just warning you, the contents of suspected forgery sites are not displayed. This makes it substantially more obvious to the user that there may be an issue.

Summary of Firefox 3 security

I have highlighted a few of the key security features in Firefox 3, but not all of them. In addition to the features and functions I have already covered, Firefox 3 also provides:

  • New SSL error pages: clearer and stricter error pages are used when Firefox encounters an invalid SSL certificate.
  • Add-ons and Plugin version check: Firefox now automatically checks add-on and plugin versions and will disable older, insecure versions.
  • Secure add-on updates: to improve add-on update security, add-ons that provide updates in an insecure manner will be disabled.
  • Anti-virus integration: Firefox will inform anti-virus software when downloading executables.

Firefox 3, like its predecessors, is a solid competitor for Internet Explorer, and provides a wonderful option for those seeking an alternative web browser. Just remember, you still have to pay attention to vulnerability alerts and exploits, and keep your Firefox installation up to date to stay protected against new and emerging threats.

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