Is it Time to Reconsider Firefox?

Paul Mah

A report by security vendor Cenzic has pegged the popular open source Firefox Web browser right at the top in terms of the total reported vulnerabilities. According to Cenzic, Firefox garnered 44 percent of all reported browser vulnerabilities in the first half of this year. This is in contrast to Safari, which commanded 35 percent and Internet Explorer's 15 percent. Fourth-place Opera garnered just 6 percent of reported flaws.


The Problem with Add-Ons

As to the reason Firefox came out so far ahead (or behind), of even traditional security laggards like Internet Explorer, Lars Ewe, CTO of Cenzic, explained to that this could be the result of its plug-in architecture. The exact formula used by the company wasn't revealed, though Ewe was quoted as saying:

They've gotten more traction as a browser, which is good for them and the more you get used, the more exposure you have. As well a fair amount of the vulnerabilities have come by way of plug-ins.

Ewe admitted that problems with plug-ins often reside outside the control of the Firefox team, saying:

They can't control security aspects of all the plug-ins and the vulnerabilities are a side effect of that.

So does counting the number of vulnerabilities of third-party software even make sense, given that it would not be possible to load every plug-in that exists?


I took a quick glance at my current plug-ins under the "Add-on" menu option in Firefox and saw that I run six. While not a low number, I am sure that many others, especially Web developers or power users, will swear by more. So while it is probably unfair to measure the security-worthiness of Firefox in this manner, it would be inaccurate to exclude them completely.


Performance Issues

Moving on, another issue has recently emerged that caught my attention. Brooke Crothers over at CNET News wrote about how Firefox consumes a lot of CPU resources at times. He described his experiences, noting:

I find that tab for tab, Firefox uses decidedly more resources than other browsers -- Safari, for example.

While I never did compare Firefox with other browsers, I have personally found that the processor utilization of Mozilla Firefox does at times spike up to 100 percent for unknown reasons. While this does not happen that regularly, the only way to eliminate the problem once Firefox decides to act up this way is to completely shut down the browser and restart it.


This thorny issue becomes problematic. however, should I failed to notice it in time -- the battery on my laptop ends up lasting only half the normal amount of time thanks to the phantom workload consuming more than the usual amount of power.


To be clear, I've always been an advocate of the Mozilla Firefox browser. I use it as my primary browser across all my workstations, in fact. In view of the above reasons, though, could it be time to rethink the use of this popular open source Web browser? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 3, 2009 1:17 AM Kurt Kurt  says:

Wow.  Shows what an excellent browser Firefox is.  Even with all this I would never consider any other (I have chrome and explorer installed and use them from time to time, and I've used Opera) browser.

Sometimes Firefox 'does' grab all your processor, and worse, the process goes on for another two minutes after you have exited Firefox.  Firefox also fills the RAM up to .6 gig with God knows what. Still, I'd choose Firefox.

Firefox's strength is simultaneously its weakness.  The ability to find and install third party add-on's will of course lower security...but the usefulness of these addons more than compensates.  Considering Firefox allows the open source community to write programs to run on its browser, it has done remarkably well, security-wise, compared to how bad things could get.

I'm not a blind fan of Firefox, but I am a blind fan of any browser that returns better OVERALL value.

Dec 3, 2009 1:25 AM Dave Dave  says:

So, I was intrigued by your post on Mozilla, since, I use it also across all workstations. I also agree, wholeheartedly to the possible thoughts going into changing the browser to something less vulnerable. (not looking forward to that!)

I actually love Mozilla's Firefox, it works very well for me. But I am actually looking into the CPU usage problem. It really sucks. So, thanks for the update and I will update you when I find some more information.

Dec 3, 2009 1:55 AM iron wil iron wil  says:

While this article has some weight, it is also true that the security plug-ins for FF make it more secure than any other browser.  I use a few plug-ins to secure my browser & computer against potential threats.

I think that this article is a scare tactic because there is no disclosure on what is being used with FF.  I have to admit that I will blow this article off; because, it doesn't have enough information.


Dec 3, 2009 3:00 AM David David  says:

I use Firefox but sometimes I must use IE for certain online transactions that don't like FF and also for Windows Update.  I have only 3 add-ons.  I have noticed that FF sometimes uses all the CPU -- no idea why -- and that can be a pain if I need the CPU to do other things at the time.  Then I have to wait for FF to finish what its doing.  I prefer FF partly to support them, and also because it does a superior job of remembering my login passwords which are very numerous.  So I put up with the CPU over-use.  I'll stick with it.

Dec 3, 2009 4:48 AM Anonymous Anonymous  says:

With all the multi-core processors out these days, one would wonder why this issue is brought up. If you are not using your dual-core to their potential, using processor affinity, that is your fault - not Firefox's. I am forced to use IE at work, but all my personal computers at home run Linux and I do not see an issue with Firefox. I just upgraded to OpenSuSE 11.2 on one machine and I like it.

Dec 3, 2009 4:52 AM Paul Mah Paul Mah  says: in response to Anonymous

Hi, I don't quite understand how processor affinity have to do with the problem here. On my laptop at least, both cores on my 2.4GHz Dual Core system gets maxed out when Firefox decides to act up. Indeed, this problem seems to be observed/correlated by quite a number of other readers, as well as other folks who use Firefox.

Dec 9, 2009 5:46 AM Diann Diann  says:

I have used FF for quite a while but the last two updates have totally done a job on my computer.  I have to shut it down almost every time that I use it and it has slowed my system down to the point that I am crippled by the time everything takes now.  I have tried to fix it with the help and tols but just cannot resolve the issues.  I am in the process of removing it from my computer.  Six months ago I thought it was the greatest thing ever but now I am reconsidering.  Both my daughter and I have had the same problems on two different computers (one is a pc and one is an Apple).  When I got my new laptop, I decided not to install it.

Dec 10, 2009 12:23 PM clueless clueless  says:

So Firefox is the reason why my PC slows down lately these days, not mentioning Ive downloaded tons of its Add-Ons.

I have noticed Firefox's been taking all the CPU usage that it even lingers for more than a minute sometimes. But whatever, Firefox still better than others.

I have put off IE since some of my Windows files might have been corrupted thats why my Internet Explorer is very slow now.

Jul 11, 2010 11:47 AM NEver Disclosed NEver Disclosed  says: in response to Anonymous

Hey!  Way to be!  Won't be long and you'll be using an Apple!


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