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Migrating to Opera for Better Security

Last updated May 23, 2003.

Your web browser is probably the one of the most-used programs on your computer. Many people take their web browser security for granted and don't realize the security risks that are involved with browser exploits. It is not uncommon for people to become infected with spyware or worse just by visiting a malicious site with an insecure browser.

Internet Explorer is the most commonly used browser. The main reason people choose this browser is because the browser chooses them. Internet Explorer is on every edition of Microsoft Windows since at least Windows 95, so it's very hard to not use it. In addition, Internet Explorer is so completely embedded into Windows experience that it can be a real effort to remove it, especially in the earlier Operating systems like Windows 98.

While this popular browser is handy and powerful, it is also a common target for hackers because of its widespread use. In other words, hackers know that 80% of the world uses this piece of software, which means any bug will affect a very large number of people. As a result, any working exploit reaches a maximum number of victims. The question then arises, would an alternate browser help to prevent a hacker attack?

What is Opera

Opera is what many call an internet suite. It is very feature-rich combining a huge arsenal of internet tools that makes a lot of other browsers look weak in comparison.

Opera has a very long history, and it was first in development around 1993. Opera has always been very security conscious. As a result, It hasn't taken the savage beatings the other major browsers have experienced in regards to malware and exploit code.

Opera also includes an email client which can easily replace the default Windows "Outlook Express." This email program is very robust, allowing users to have multiple accounts and offers better security against hacker exploits then Outlook Express. Just like Outlook Express, Opera includes a news client and news aggregator allowing you to visit and post to your favourite newsgroups.

Opera includes a very good download manager. You can stop and resume file transfers anytime you like. This is a great feature as many download managers on the net come bundled with spyware. Spyware makers know that you are going to use the download managers online, so bundling spyware into the download manager is logical to them. The Opera download manager can sometimes find the real URL address of a file being downloaded. Sometimes webmasters use scripts that try and hide the URL of a file, but in most cases Opera can defeat this and show you the real URL address.

If a download manager isn't enough for you, Opera also comes with an integrated bit torrent client. This allows you to download torrent files without having to rely on third party software.

Opera also features a built in IRC client. If you have ever tried to find a decent IRC client and script, you will probably know that there are a lot of viruses. Opera protects you from this security risk because the company is reputable and would never infect their own products.

Opera is also a web browser that allows you to surf the internet just like you would using Internet Explorer. What makes Opera a lot better the Internet Explorer is the fact that it is hardly targeted by hackers and malware creators. Opera browser is a safer alternative to Internet Explorer.

Opera has all the features of Internet Explorer. If you can do it with Internet Explorer, you can do it with Opera but in a more secure way.

Another feature not related to security is its speed. Opera is fast; in fact it's probably the fastest web browser in the world. This may not be important to people with broadband, but those on dial up connections can really notice the speed difference.

In the past a lot of people have been put off using Opera browser because it was not totally free (the free versions had adverts in it). While not spyware, advertising is annoying to heavy internet users. This is all history because Opera has decided to remove the adverts on the free version.

Common Questions

Q. If I migrate to Opera from Internet Explorer, will I lose all my bookmarks?

A. Transferring bookmarks (or favorites as Internet Explorer likes to call them) is relatively simple. You can use a program called BookmarkBridge to do this. BookmarkBridge is a GNU GPL licensed program meaning that it's completely free. You can download this program here:

http://bookmarkbridge.sourceforge.net/

Q. Isn't Mozilla Firefox supposed to be a better security alternative?

A. Firefox has recently been plagued with numerous critical security issues. Firefox is becoming a very widely used browser so it makes sense for malware creators to write hostile code targeting this browser. Also, Firefox is not as fast as Opera.

Q. Opera doesn't work with hotmail; why would I use it?

A. It is true that Opera has had troubles with the Java scripting on the hotmail site in the past. At present this is not a problem and Opera users can now easily use Hotmail just like every other browser.

Q. Will I still need antivirus software and a firewall if I use Opera?

A. The answer to this question is yes. Opera is a safer alternative to most other browsers on the market today, but a browser is not designed to scan for viruses. Opera will still let you download a file that is infected from the net, but it will offer greater protection from infected files downloading and running themselves. This is because most of the exploits that allow execution of code on your computer from a remote webserver do not affect Opera.

A firewall is needed because that functionality is not built into Opera. A firewall is essential for everyone who has a computer that connects to any network or the internet.

You can download the latest version of Opera from http://www.opera.com. Opera is free. Try it out for yourself; you may never want to use another browser again.