Uses of ActiveX
ActiveX is based on object technology developed by Microsoft. It is used to package programs developed in different applications as objects. These objects can be executed as ActiveX programs within the environment or as an ActiveX control across the network.
ActiveX objects are embedded within different applications using the Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technology. The main function of OLE is to enable multiple applications on a system to share formats and information.
ActiveX programs are shared over the Internet using the Distributed Common Object Model (DCOM) technology. DCOM enables users to download ActiveX controls from the Internet and execute them on their systems. A number of Microsoft applications, such as Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word, use ActiveX Controls to perform various functions. Internet Explorer widely uses ActiveX to display files such as PDF or Flash, for which it does not have a built-in control.
ActiveX Security Threats
OLE was developed keeping in mind that a single user will use the technology to run applications on a single computer. Therefore, no serious thought was given to security. However, as ActiveX used the technology to share objects across a network, OLE became a security vulnerability for ActiveX.
With the popularity of inherent security problems in ActiveX, many malicious ActiveX programs were created. With the capability of easily spreading over the Internet, malicious ActiveX programs have become a big problem for computer users.
Increasing security threats related to ActiveX programs, forced Microsoft to introduce what is known as the ‘code signing’ process. This process requires validation of all ActiveX programs developed to perform different tasks. For this, all ActiveX programmers are asked to obtain a digital certificate to certify that their program is not harmful and that they can distribute it over the Internet, without making any changes to it.
Also, when you download an ActiveX program on your PC, Internet Explorer checks whether the program carries a valid signature or not. It also validates that the ActiveX program has not been changed since it was provided the certificate. However, code signing has not proved to be a fool proof solution to the spread of malicious ActiveX programs. Hackers always seem to find a way to work around the problem.
Solution to ActiveX Problems
Almost all ActiveX Problems are due to a fault in basic architecture and design. Therefore, you cannot fix these problems permanently without making a major technological change in its basic design. In Windows XP SP2 and Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft developers have done a lot of modifications to make them more secure. However, as a PC user, the best way to keep your PC safe from ActiveX problems would be to follow certain preventive measures. Some of the preventive measures are given below:
- Configure a firewall to prevent incoming traffic of ActiveX programs
- Modify web Browser and email program settings to prevent uncertified ActiveX programs from running on your system
- Configure security rules in your web browser on how you want to run ActiveX programs
- Keep your antivirus and spyware programs updated and run regular scans to search and eradicate malicious software from your system
- Run regular registry scans using a registry cleaner software, to remove any malicious entries added to it by bad ActiveX programs you would have download by mistake
To sum up, we can say that the best way to keep your PC safe from ActiveX problems is to be precautious about which Web sites you access over the internet and what type of software you download on your system. You must always keep your antivirus software updated and regularly download security updates from the Microsoft Support site. This will ensure that you keep your PC safe from malicious programs. Finally, you must use a registry cleaner software to regularly scan the Windows registry and keep it free from obsolete, redundant and invalid information.