Handling the Switch

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-07-05 Print this article Print

MLB.com basically works, but GameDay—its live game data display—and all of the other live game things fail, unsurprisingly. Even the Java-based Yahoo GameChannel went nowhere, but I know it relies on script.

The eWEEK.com Security Topic Center and my own blog both seem to work fine. The Ziff Davis publishing system also worked very well, although the blog administration pages failed. (Lucky for me, I mostly use NewsGators blog posting add-in.)

Slashdot.org works well, the first site Im not surprised to see do well. Slashdot has a readership that would expect such behavior. Google News also works well, but theres nothing fancy about it.

This story was inspired in part by a message I saw on a security list complaining about how Microsofts advisory pages were unreadable without scripting. Maybe they fixed it since, because the Microsoft Security page and the advisories were perfectly readable for me. Scripted elements, such as the little plus and minus symbols they use to expand and contract sections, are gone, and everything is expanded.

Not all Microsoft sites do as well. The Microsoft Knowledge Base is useless. It relies on a few listboxes and other elements that were empty. It doesnt really work in Firefox, either.

The MSDN Library, which I also use a lot, is functional, but to a much lesser degree. The big outline control on the left with the list of products and technologies is empty. You can still search.

Slate and The Wall Street Journal both work very well, although with some fancy DHTML menus disabled. On the "seriously busted" list, I put TV Guide, Weather.com and The Washington Post. And while TinyURL can make the URLs, it cant put them on the clipboard.

I used to write Web programming tips, and Im sure I wrote a lot about how to do forms in script without actually writing forms. This is exactly the sort of thing that doesnt make sense anymore. If you can do something conventionally or with a less dangerous technique such as CSS, do it that way.

Finally, the administration pages for my ServGate Edgeforce Plus security appliance were unusable. Very little displays on the page. This is a problem, and Im surprised by it.

For an alternate browser, instead of the full Mozilla, I have been using Firefox for cases where I need to use scripting or Flash or whatever. Not bad at all. I had been using the full Mozilla and not liking it, but Firefox is much simpler and more familiar, which is to say its more IE-like. Its printing is not as intelligent as IEs, and I found a few other bugs, but hey, its only version 0.9.1. I could get used to this.

When things go wrong in IE, if you read security mailing lists, you can be sure to read another lecture from Thor Larholm, senior security researcher at PivX Solutions, about how its all about security zones. Internet Explorer defines several zones with different levels of privilege and puts sites in different zones based on the level of trust. Security holes are almost always a new way for a site to escape the less-privileged zone in which it should run to get to the My Computer zone, where anything goes. The CERT advisory also talks about these problems.

PivX has a product, in free beta now, called Quik-Fix that fills these holes. Windows XP SP2 also will lock down the My Computer zone, closing off the basis for almost all of these attacks. Ill explore this whole security zones issue in more detail soon.

Its still technically too early to tell, but XP SP2 seems to be a much more viable alternative to the status quo than crazy ideas such as disabling scripting—and potentially better than running an alternate browser. I dont want to give short shrift to Firefox, but when SP2 comes out, everyones going to need to install it anyway, so if alternate browsers lose much of their security appeal, then IE becomes more practical, too. Of course, nothing stops you from running alternate browsers on SP2.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at http://security.eweek.com for security news, views and analysis. Be sure to add our eWEEK.com security news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:   More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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