Mozilla Firefox Wins Anti-Spam Award

Sure, the open source browser travels the Web, but did you know it’s also a phish-fighter?
Mozilla Firefox, a free, open-source web browser for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, has long had a loyal cult following. Now Datamation’s readers have taken notice, choosing Firefox – narrowly – to win its Product of the Year award in the Anti-Spam category.

The other entrants in this popular category were Norton Internet Security 2007, Vanquish’s vqME, Bullguard’s Internet Security, and the Apache SpamAssassin Project’s SpamAssassin.

The upgraded Firefox browser has built-in phishing protection, which is turned on by default. It checks sites against either a local or online list of known phishing sites, which are authentic-looking Web sites set up by scammers to trick users into entering personal financial information. The list is automatically updated.

Users point to Firefox’s speed, stability, highly customizable interface and open code base. Firefox also has the ability to block those ultra-annoying pop-up windows.

Firefox users tout the fact that it is not integrated with Windows, which helps prevent viruses and hackers from causing damage if they somehow manage to compromise the browser. Firefox doesn't support VBScript and ActiveX, two technologies that allow many IE security holes. Additionally, no spyware/adware software can automatically be installed in Firefox when users inadvertently visit an infecting site. The open source browser also gives users complete control over cookies.

“Firefox's anti-phishing features are a welcome addition to the browser and have been solidly implemented,’’ enthuses Leslie Franke, a systems analyst at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., in Akron, Ohio. Franke has used Firefox as her default browser since the summer of 2003, when it was operating under the name Firebird. “There is no question that anti-phishing features are desperately needed in all browsers and Firefox is at the head of the pack.”

Franke says she especially likes that Firefox enables phishing filters by default and that “the steps taken when a phishing site is found are straightforward and easy to understand.”

Mitch Keeler, a resident of Vernon, Texas who runs a site called Firefox Facts, has used the browser for over three years. Keeler says the anti-phishing features are a plus for less experienced Internet users.

“The phishing protection feature warns Firefox users when they stumble upon suspected phishers, and offers to take them off the Web page or to a Web page where they can find what they are really looking for via search,’’ he says.

Firefox vs. Internet Explorer

How does Firefox stack up against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer? Last November, software testing firm SmartWare released a report based on tests it conducted on the Firefox 2.0 and IE7 browsers, both of which include new technology to help flag and block phishing sites.

In a third-party test that pitted the browsers against two week's worth of phishing sites, the test indicated that Firefox's phish “net” may have fewer holes than IE's. Firefox blocked 243 phishing sites that IE7 overlooked, while IE7 blocked 117 sites that Firefox did not, according to the report.

But Craig Roth, vice president at technology research firm Burton Group, said people should not put too much stock in one test.

“It's a matter of how it’s keeping up with attacks over time that is important,’’ says Roth.

He says people have long paid attention to Firefox because it has a certain David and Goliath element to its story. Where the browser will prove its merit in the future, says Roth, lies in Mozilla’s ability to stay on top of the security features it has implemented.

“It’s the infrastructure and the people behind it who track where attacks are coming from that give this [Firefox’s anti-phishing features] its value. So if the technology feature is there to check certain websites against a blacklist, that alone doesn’t do anything. It's the blacklist that has to be continually updated,’’ he observes.

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