For all the new improvements, features, add-ons, and reworking of Firefox 3, I find the security and privacy enhancements the most convincing for someone looking to explore new browsers. This new version warns you should you stumble onto a site that attempts to install any malware (viruses, trojans, spyware, etc.) on your computer. The harmful software never gets a chance to contaminate your computer due to this built-in warning system. See Figure 4 to view the warning that you'll receive.
There is also built-in protection against what is known as web forgery. Web forgery is perpetrated most often by emails suggesting that you need to click a link to claim a prize, fix your compromised bank account, or update other information that requires you to submit sensitive information about yourself. These attempts are very convincing and look official to the unsuspecting eye. Firefox protects you from falling prey to these attacks. When you are directed to a site suspected of being a web forgery site, you will receive a warning in your browser (see Figure 5) instead of the site's contents. By completely blocking the site from view, your browser, computer, and valuable personal information are safe.
Firefox also protects your computer against viruses by scanning downloads before they ever get to your computer. Since the use of floppy disk drives has fallen to almost zero, browser-based attacks and infected downloads are now the most common ways of acquiring viruses.
I don't like that when I visit a new site that has embedded Flash, or some other common web widget, that I have to download and install an Add-On (see Figure 6). I think there should be a standard set of technologies, like Flash, that are supported out of the box because of their ubiquitous use on websites. Third-party add-ons remove some of the security control in Firefox and therefore their use should be limited. Firefox 3 does disable older insecure add-on updates and only allows secure updates for currently installed add-ons.
Though I've spoken plainly in letting you know that I have not been a fan of Firefox in the past, I now find myself intrigued by it. I really like the security enhancements and virus protection that is now tightly integrated into the product. I also like the page zoom feature that makes fine print easier to read for my rapidly aging eyes. You can't please everyone and it's hard to convert to a new religion but Firefox 3 is a refreshing new beginning and it is definitely worth a look when the final production version is available.
Kenneth Hess is a freelance technical writer who writes on a variety of subjects including Linux, MySQL, SQLite, PHP, and Apache. You may reach Ken via his website.
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This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.