ProtonMail drops support for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer over security concerns

Popular CERN-hatched encrypted email service ProtonMail has stated it will drop support for all versions of Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s legacy browser that in the early 2000s was ubiquitous on Windows desktops. 

These days Microsoft is focused on its Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge, but in 2003 its predecessor, Internet Explorer (IE), had a marketshare of 95 percent. 

Today that has fallen to less than 10 percent, according to Net Marketshare figures. Edge trails at under five percent, while the dominant browser remains Google Chrome, which arrived in 2008, and now has a steady 60 percent share worldwide. 

ProtonMail is an end-to-end encrypted email service that emerged from Swiss-based research facility CERN in 2014 in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the US National Security Agency’s mass hacking programs like PRISM. 

ProtonMail offers an alternative to Google Gmail and Microsoft Outlook users who are concerned about government snooping. 

The privacy-focussed email provider now has 10 million users who are willing to foot the bill for its subscription fees, which start at €5 a month based on storage needs. 

ProtonMail announced on Tuesday that when it releases ProtonMail 4.0 later this year, the service will no longer be accessible from any version of IE, including the latest and final version, IE 11. 

“Anyone trying to access ProtonMail from IE after the update will be prompted to switch browsers,” ProtonMail said in a blogpost

The move is unlikely to trigger protest from Microsoft, which would like Windows users to adopt Edge anyway. Nonetheless, a significant proportion of the world’s Internet users still rely on IE for accessing websites, however ProtonMail's move is part of a wider and inevitable shift away from Microsoft's old browser technology.    

ProtonMail developers say that security risks and development costs are behind the move to drop support for IE. 

“Other services are phasing out IE for many of the same reasons we are. Considering the security risks, development costs, compatibility issues, and the small number of people using IE, we are confident this is the right time to drop IE support,” ProtonMail said. 

“We are not confident that IE 11 is a secure browser. Microsoft is diverting resources to focus on Edge, and fewer developers are testing for it. More bugs or vulnerabilities are inevitable.”

Additionally, the email company notes that just one percent of its traffic comes from IE.  

The decision comes as ProtonMail plans to launch a new calendar and an encrypted cloud storage service. 

“We would rather use our developer resources to improve Proton rather than fix bugs for an outdated browser,” the company noted. 

Internet Explorer 11 is the last version of the browser Microsoft intends to release, however Microsoft has promised to continue patching it in line with the support timeframes for Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.

Microsoft however is maintaining IE as a “compatibility solution”, mostly to help enterprise Windows shops. At the same time it urged organizations to not to use it as a primary browser. Developers aren’t testing against it and Microsoft isn’t building IE for web standards.

ProtonMail suggests its users who still rely on IE to move to “modern browsers”, which include Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. 

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