ActiveX Troubleshooting and Repair  

What are ActiveX Controls?

ActiveX controls are a part of the ActiveX technologies offered by Microsoft. Developers use ActiveX technology to develop Windows applications as well as Web-based applications and interactive Web content. For end users, ActiveX controls are the most visible part of the ActiveX technology.

Let’s take a look at a typical Web browser. On its own, a Web browser doesn’t do much other than display content. However, with ActiveX controls (or browser add-ons as they are often called), the Web browser suddenly becomes quite capable. It can display PDF files, play videos in an embedded video player, play music, play Flash content, and provide the user with a number of different tools.

Before ActiveX controls are added to your Web browser, they must meet certain criteria. Some ActiveX controls have been pre-approved by Microsoft and are automatically allowed. For example, Microsoft knows that its own ActiveX controls have been designed to be useful, not malicious, so it allows its own add-ons to be installed. Others have been preinstalled as part of the Windows operating system.

ActiveX controls can also be either signed or unsigned which can then be controlled via your browser’s security settings. Signed ActiveX controls are generally considered safe while unsigned ones may be malicious. For example, by default, your Web browser will not automatically download ActiveX controls that have not been designated as being “safe for scripting.” These settings are designed to block malicious ActiveX controls from automatically installing themselves on your computer while allowing safe ActiveX controls access.

The issue of “safe for scripting” is a big one. Unfortunately, malware developers also use ActiveX controls for installing spyware on the computers of unsuspecting computer users. Because ActiveX controls can carry out complex programming, when the programming is malicious, your computer (and its data) is at risk.

As a Web surfer, you will likely encounter prompts to download ActiveX controls from time to time. This too is by design. Some ActiveX controls are completely legitimate though they may not have been pre-approved by Microsoft for automatic downloading. Again, by default, your Web browser is set to prompt you before downloading signed ActiveX controls. When prompted, you will need to make a decision based on how much you trust the Web site and how useful or necessary the control is. For example, if you need to view your electric bill online at your electric utility’s website and the website requires that you install an ActiveX control in order to view and pay the bill, then you’d likely decide that this ActiveX control is both necessary and trustworthy. On the other hand, if you stumble upon an online gambling site that wants to install an ActiveX control for no apparent reason, you may want to be cautious as you are unfamiliar with the site and unsure about its intentions.

ActiveX controls are useful tools that make the Web browser more functional. Because of the potential for exploitation by malware developers, it’s smart to keep the browser’s recommended settings in place and then carefully consider each new ActiveX control on a case-by-case basis.


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