ActiveX is a software module that enables programmers to develop software components that are object oriented and reusable. ActiveX is also known as OLE Automation. Automation refers to the technology used to develop these components and ActiveX refers to the objects that the Automation technology creates and manipulates.
In the late 1990’s, when Internet Explorer and Visual Basic were gaining popularity among users, all of ActiveX was assumed to be ActiveX controls. However, in realty, ActiveX control is just a particular type of ActiveX object that is used to develop plug-ins for Internet Explorer.
ActiveX offers a number of benefits to developers and Web programmers. Some of the benefits of using ActiveX objects with your applications and Web sites are listed below.
- You can develop unique and interactive Web sites that enable you to become more productive and useful over the Internet.
- Instead of developing an entire Web site or application from scratch, you can use thousands of ActiveX objects already available in the market.
- You can use the existing ActiveX objects in a number of different programming languages to quickly develop content that is both compelling and engaging.
ActiveX controls used to plug-in various functionalities into Web pages are quite similar to Java applets. However, ActiveX controls are more powerful because they can gain full access to your Windows system. Although, this feature helps in adding many more functionalities to Web pages, it also poses certain security risks. ActiveX controls in the hands of malicious programs and hackers can not only damage data and software on your PC, but may also collect and transmit your personal information to external sources.
ActiveX: Controlling Risks
The main risk associated with ActiveX components is due to a fault with its basic architecture. Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technology that is used to embed ActiveX objects within different applications was primarily designed for a single user trying to run applications on a single computer. Due to this, not much weight was given to enhancing the security features. However, as ActiveX uses the same technology to share objects across various platforms and applications, OLE became a security vulnerability for ActiveX.
Some of the measures that Microsoft has taken to control this security risk are listed below.
- Developed an ActiveX objects registration system that enables browsers to verify and authenticate ActiveX objects prior to downloading them to your PC.
- Incorporated enhanced security features in Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Internet Explorer 7.
Despite all of these measures, the security of your PC, in the end, lies in your hands. To keep your PC safe from ActiveX-related security risks, you must take the following precautions:
- Install and configure firewall to prevent unauthenticated and malicious ActiveX programs from gaining access to your system.
- Configure your Web browser and E-mail application to prevent them from running and downloading unsolicited ActiveX objects on your PC.
- Change the security settings of your Internet Explorer to specify how you want your browser to handle ActiveX objects.
- Regularly update virus definitions of your antivirus and anti-spyware programs and run them periodically to keep your PC safe from malware.
- Use a reliable registry cleaner to regularly scan your system registry for malicious entries added to it by unsolicited ActiveX objects and clean them.
ActiveX objects are widely used by Web developers today to create interactive and user-friendly Web sites. However, the easy to use ActiveX objects when misused by malicious software and hackers can cause severe damage to your system. The best way to control risks related to ActiveX objects is to become a vigilant user. Always be careful of what ActiveX objects you are downloading on your system and keep your system updated with latest security releases, patches, and hot fixes. Additionally, regularly run antivirus and registry scans on your PC to prevent and remove malicious files and software from your system.