The latest exploits have leveraged IEs ActiveX and Active scripting, and IIS (Internet Information Server) security holes to unleash a wave of keystroke loggers and other malware designed to capture personal and financial data.
CERT has gone so far as to recommend dumping IE in favor of Mozilla, Firefox, Opera or—on the Mac—Safari browsers that are free of IEs dependencies. Alternatively, you can disable ActiveX and Active scripting, with the kind of diminishing results Larry Seltzer reports. And Microsoft is hoping well just put up with patches until Windows XP SP2 rolls around later this summer.
I mention the Mac and Safari because it remains the default free zone—largely free not just of the actual attacks but more importantly of the fear of such attacks. The Mac has prospered in the information economy, with OS Xs suite of system services providing rich support for RSS routers (NetNewsWire), IP videoconferencing (iChatAV) and collaboration tools (SubEthaEdit).
Apple CEO Steve Jobs recent WWDC keynote provided an early look at OS X Tigers extensions of these underlying services, with an RSS-enabled Safari, four-way videoconferencing and 10-way audio conferencing, and a powerful visual scripting tool that will give power users a way to integrate, automate and bootstrap these features. But none of these tools is planned to appear until sometime next year, when the new OS ships.
Then, too, Jobs may have been a bit too ahead of the curve with Safari RSS. The audience reaction was muted, and Jobs demo seemed to suffer from a lack of familiarity with the use case for the technology. As with Sun Microsystems, the first RSS platform efforts seem focused on the developer community proposition. Further, embedding RSS in a read-only container—the browser—is only a half-step forward.
Nonetheless, the Mac remains a critical beachhead for the industry, providing a pool of power users and communicators with enough market clout to maintain an alternative to IEs dominant position.
Web site designs may overwhelmingly favor IE dynamics, but Apple has kept the door ajar for what is becoming a standards-based approach. The recent agreement to develop a plug-in standard across Safari, Opera and Mozilla browsers opens the door even further.