Security is one of the most important initiatives for financial firms—and with good reason. With so much sensitive data available online, it’s vital to take every precaution to secure it. However, there is an all too common practice that risks it all—using outdated web browsers.

Outdated Web Browsers Open Financial Firms to Avoidable Security Risk

In the past, financial firms frequently locked their employees into specific versions of browsers, disallowing them to update to newer versions. Applications that the firms used were closely tied to very specific versions of browsers. Updating the browser could have resulted in the software failing or requiring modifications, so the practice was avoided for consistency and to avoid unnecessary maintenance to other software.

Fast forward to 2015. The landscape of the Internet has completely changed in the last five years. Most modern browsers, like Google ChromeMozilla Firefox and even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 11 have kept up with support and security by using auto-updating technology to quickly update features and plug security holes. Continuing to use old versions of browsers can lead to a multitude of issues.

Browser usage between March 2009 - March 2010

Browser usage between March 2009 – March 2010

Browser usage between March 2014 - March 2015

Browser usage between March 2014 – March 2015

Outdated browsers undermine security advancements

Smashing Magazine explains that “old browsers (especially Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, and 8) are less stable, and much more vulnerable to viruses, spyware, malware, and other security issues.” This is because the security holes that were identified and patched in newer versions are still open and available for hackers to exploit and infiltrate.

Windows XP, which Microsoft discontinued support for on April 8, 2014, only allows users to run up to version 8 of Internet Explorer. Because of this, support for Internet Explorer 8 and lower was also discontinued. On a Microsoft support page it states, “Internet Explorer is a component of the Windows operating system and follows the Support Lifecycle policy for the product on which it is installed.” Continued on Microsoft’s End of Support page it says, “Without critical Windows XP security updates, your PC may become vulnerable to harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal or damage your business data and information. Anti-virus software will also not be able to fully protect you once Windows XP itself is unsupported.”

Even with direct and frequent warnings from the creators of the software, the use of Windows XP and Internet Explorer 8 continues in the corporate world, primarily in financial sectors.

Compatibility issues and inconsistency

Internet technology is constantly evolving. Methods of designing and programming for the web are perpetually improving for security and efficiency. Modern web browsers feature automatic version updating to ensure the quality of the user experience and the security of their user’s personal information. Outdated and discontinued web browsers don’t receive the benefit of this evolution, so the user experience can be inconsistent or even completely broken.

Acid Test

The Acid Test is a method of testing a browser’s compliance with web standards. Currently, the latest versions of Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer (version 10 and higher) pass the Acid3 Test with a 100/100 score. Internet Explorer 8 scores a 20/100.

Older browsers are slow

With the rise of Internet use on mobile devices and tablets, speed and loading time are as important as ever. Whether it be loading scripts or rendering images and video, browsers that are past their prime aren’t optimized to handle modern code. This can result in slower page loads, freezing, crashing, and an overall frustrating user experience.

Modern, efficient web development starts from a content-first and mobile-first perspective. Starting with the most simplified version of a site (universally optimized for mobile devices, tablets, and desktops alike), additional features, functionality, and graphics are then added for a richer experience on the devices that can handle the additional load.

Older browsers support for modern code is limited

Requiring support for Internet Explorer 8 not only opens security risks for its users, but adds development time and also hinders progression by limiting the use of modern, efficient code. The development solution is called “graceful degradation,” which means that a website is built to be viewed by modern browsers first, then older, unsupported browsers will degrade in a way that is still basically functional, but with fewer features. Differentiating old and new browsers is primarily handled through media queries (renders different content based on device conditions such as screen size/resolution). All modern web browsers support media queries, but they remain unsupported for Internet Explorer 8 and below.

It’s time for a better, newer browser

Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have taken over the global browser usage charts for a reason—they are modern browsers that support automatic updates and enhance the web experience. Their security and support for web standards is second to none. Microsoft started to catch up with Internet Explorer 11, but they’re working on a new browser (codename “Spartan”) about which they say, “We’ve deliberately moved away from the versioned document modes historically used in Internet Explorer, and now use the same markup as other modern browsers. Spartan’s new rendering engine is designed to work with the way the web is written today.”

To learn more about your current browser and how to upgrade to safer alternatives, websites like https://whatbrowser.org can help.