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What the Heck are ActiveX Controls?


Debbie from NC writes:

What are ActiveX controls?

Hi, Debbie.  Thanks for the great question.

ActiveX controls are basically small programs designed by Windows to allow Windows, Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer to run applications within their environment, similar to Java applets.  By using ActiveX controls rather than changing the basic programming of the module, they can make small changes without overhauling the entire program.  Mozilla Firefox also has an add-on that allows their users to access ActiveX programs. 

The downside to ActiveX is that it leaves these programs vulnerable to malware attacks, which are called “drive-bys”.  They can also be used by computer predators to remotely take control of your computer.  You CAN disable all ActiveX controls by going into Internet Properties in your control panel. To open your control panel, click the Start button and then “Control Panel”.

You may have to click an intermediate window that says “Network and Internet”.  Under Internet Options, you’ll see an option that says “Manage Browser Add-ons”.

Once you get into the Browser Add-ons window, click the “Security” tab.  Under that, you’ll see a slider bar to set the level of your automatic security. 

Mine is set to “medium-high”, because that’s where I’m the most comfortable.  If you grab that slider and push it all the way up to “High”, you’ll block all incoming ActiveX controls.  The downside to this is that some internet sites will no longer function properly. 

Another (and in my opinion, better) way to do this is to simply stay away from sites that your virus scanner deems as being unsafe.  You will get a pop-up that advises you of this and gives you the option of visiting the site anyway.

Hope that this helps.

~Randal Schaffer


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3 Responses to “What the Heck are ActiveX Controls?”

  1. doreen says:

    Thanks for making this understandable. Like the common sense part too about avoiding some sites.

  2. randal says:

    Hi, Doreen.

    No problem. You’d be amazed how uncommon “common sense” can be. I once knew a woman who made her living doing seminars about web security. She kept threatening to call one “Don’t Click On Anything, Ever.”


  3. crackers says:

    An easier way to get to internet options is to do this; first open up IE and in the top right hand corner the is a menu called tools. when you can see that menu there is an option called internet options and that gets you to IE’s add-ons popup and then click on security.

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