Re: How Secure is Ubuntu/Firefox
There are generally more security holes found in Firefox than in IE. Obviously. Firefox is open source, and anybody can scan the code looking for vulnerabilities. Of course, said holes are (at least in the time I've been paying attention to such things) always patched before anyone malicious has enough time to make any significant use of them. As opposed to Internet Explorer which has, on occasion, had known exploits go unpatched for many months. (And, at least once that I know of, over a year.)
Pretty much the same thing can be said of open source operating systems as well. There are practically no virii or worms for Linux. One or two do, occasionally crop up. They tend not to survive long in the wild. Spyware is more possible, but it generally requires the user to be dumb enough to install it himself. So as long as you don't execute code from untrusted sources, you should be good. As always, beware of phishing scams. (Make sure you're actually talking to your bank before entering any important information.)
So, basically, Windows or Linux can be equally safe for online banking as long as your machine hasn't been compromised by outside forces. However, it is generally more difficult to compromise a default Linux installation than a default Windows installation, so you'll be marginally safer with the former.
What you need to do to access the "IE only" sections of your bank's website depends on why they're "IE only." If it's simply because the bank's programmers are too lazy to test other browsers and don't want to field support calls when they don't work, then it's possible that all you'll have to do is tell Firefox to claim to be IE. This used to be a nice, handy switch in the preferences dialog... But it seems to have been removed for some reason. It can still be done, but I'm afraid I'm not qualified to give instructions. You'd be best off looking for a tutorial on the Firefox support site.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has never been big on following standards. So it's also possible that the sections in question are restricted to IE because they make use of some "extensions" that only work in that particular browser. The simple way to deal with this is to grab PlayOnLinux out of the repository. It has a quick, clean installer for IE 6 and 7. (Note: To legally use this, you must, technically, have a properly licensed copy of Windows installed on the same machine.) Of course, you are now running a browser that is known for security vulnerabilities inside your linux installation, with no easy way to update it... Your system as a whole should be fairly safe given that it's running inside of Wine, and most of the code that an attacker could use an exploit to run simply won't work, but, to be safe, I would _only_ use IE to access your banking site. I would also call up your bank and suggest to them that updating their software to not require a proprietary browser from one particular company is just a Good Idea in the long run. It would really suck to have IE9 come out and break backward compatibility with the extensions in previous versions and leave their customers incapable of accessing their site... If they target their site toward any standards-compliant browser, the odds of this happening drop to near zero.
If you want to be super, ultra paranoid, go get a distro like Puppy Linux and run it entirely off the CD without ever saving anything. (You could use an Ubuntu live CD too, but Puppy is designed for this and will run faster.) When you turn it off, anything bad that you've picked up goes bye-bye. Along with any browsing history, saved passwords, or anything else that could be bad-news if your machine is stolen. Probably overkill for most people, but it is, technically, safer.
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