Security Experts Fearful of Win7 Browser Ballot

Dennis Faas's picture

The Microsoft "browser ballot," which is meant to promote fair competition amongst web browsers by offering choices aside from Internet Explorer (IE), will debut via an update March 1. However, at least one security company is warning that the process could open doors for hackers to attack.

For those unaware of the browser ballot, it's Microsoft's response to accusations by the European Union that the software company's traditional bundling of Internet Explorer with its Windows operating systems was a violation of antitrust laws. Thus, Microsoft agreed that it would eventually offer users the opportunity to choose from a selection of different browsers when they upgraded to Windows 7, the Redmond-based firm's most recent operating system (OS).

The browser ballot update will be provided for Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP users in the European Union via an automatic update starting on March 1. (Source:

Limelight for Internet Explorer Rivals

The ballot will advertise Internet Explorer competitors Opera, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and main rival Mozilla Firefox (along with IE8, too). Users will then be presented with a window from which they can select the browser that will, from that point on, act as their default web tool.

Security analysts predict it could cause massive changes in the browser market overseas.

"The likes of Google and Mozilla will be rubbing their hands in glee at the chance of increasing their share of the browser market, and this increased exposure should be good for them. It will be fascinating to see how many average Internet users are tempted to try surfing via another program," noted Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley.

Ballots Will Likely Lead to Brower Infections

However, all that displacement could come at a cost.

The prospect of new browsers to try out could mean hackers will try to dupe people into clicking on their own, malicious updates. "There is a real danger that cybercriminals might attempt to take advantage of this initiative by creating bogus browser choice screens that could pop up on innocent users' PCs and potentially lead them to a malicious download," Cluley added. (Source:

Second, even if a user gets the correct Microsoft browser ballot, there's the threat that users of a new browser will be less familiar with its security options and get tricked that way.

Security experts are also taking this opportunity to warn users that there's simply no perfect browser -- even if you've been using IE for years and hope Firefox is safer, that doesn't mean there aren't flaws in the latter browser, and that doesn't mean users should ignore common sense about clicking on suspicious links in emails or visiting questionable sites.

"Computer users need to remember that no browser is perfect, and whichever one you choose it is essential that you keep it properly patched and updated to reduce the chance of hackers exploiting security vulnerabilities," Cluley noted.

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