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Wireless security and spyware - should I avoid Microsoft products?

Very good advice on network security and spyware. But why didn't you mention of the best preventive measure of all? Don't use Microsoft products! Certainly not the IE browser. There are several good Linux distros and alternative browsers.

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I agree that over-dependence on any single piece of software increases risk. As CyberInsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly (PDF), a report published last fall by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), warned: "Most of the world's computers run Microsoft's operating systems, thus most of the world's computers are vulnerable to the same viruses and worms at the same time. The only way to stop this is to avoid monoculture in computer operating systems, and for reasons just as reasonable and obvious as avoiding monoculture in farming."

Diversifying the software we use could reduce this risk. As you note, many good browser alternatives exist; using one can help you avoid IE-based attacks. For example, this Web Informant essay written by Bob Matsuoka, President of Runtime Technologies, makes a strong case for Mozilla Firefox. In addition to Firefox, a few other commercial and free web browsers include Deepnet Explorer, Konqueror, Lynx, Mozilla, Netscape, OffByOne, Opera, Safari, and SecureIE.

As Matsuoka notes, compatibility is an important consideration when choosing a browser. Many Web sites today are developed for IE viewing, making extensive use of Microsoft proprietary features like ActiveX. You may have trouble using those sites with any alternative browser -- or even with IE when configured to reduce risk. One possibility is to use non-IE-software as your primary browser, launching IE only when required to use cranky sites that you absolutely must be able to access.

I wouldn't stop with Internet Explorer -- a very large number of exploits are written for Outlook, so I use an alternative e-mail client. You can find a long list of e-mail clients here, including several from companies that also develop web browsers. But keep in mind: many users are required to access corporate e-mail through their company's standard desktop client, whatever that might be. Even so, you might reduce risk by using something other than Outlook to access personal e-mail account(s).

This was first published in October 2004

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