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Outlook versus Thunderbird: Which is More Secure?

written by: •edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/5/2010

Outlook and Thunderbird are the two major email clients and this article compares the security features of these two email clients considering spam emails, junk emails, public folders and other related issues.

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    Outlook versus Thunderbird

    The usage of email is multiplying rapidly day by day. Many email clients are rapidly coming up to satisfy the growing needs. The choice of the email client by the user depends on two factors – Security and User friendliness. Therefore it becomes necessary to discuss and compare the security features provided by two email clients that are being used far and wide today - Microsoft outlook and Mozilla thunderbird.

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    Open Source- Enhancing Security

    Internet explorer and outlook (from Microsoft) are loved by corporate world for a big margin it has in terms of revenue, so do the hackers and phishers. According to my knowledge there is no other client as Outlook that has been badly attacked in the history. Outlook when used with default settings and configuration without any firewalls, anti-spam etc. is well insecure. The tight integration of outlook with windows is the reason behind most of the security vulnerabilities. On the other hand, Mozilla Thunderbird is an open source product and the brains of many open source coders work behind to fix problems and provide a Safe, Robust and Secure email client.

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    Junk Mail Filtering

    Mozilla Thunderbird uses Bayesian filtering for Junk mail filtering giving protection against Junk mails. The junk mail filter provided by outlook 2003 service pack 2 is improved to automatically evaluate any incoming message to see if it might be suspicious, potentially fraudulent, and part of a "phishing" scheme. It provides sanitization of junk mails by providing you an option to mark emails as junk.

    During the testing of these two mail clients I found that Outlook is slower in filtering the spam mails as compared to Thunderbird. Outlook has the possibilities of getting hijacked and the resolving technique is also mentioned in the reference. (Reference: Thunderbird uses Gecko engine for HTML emails whereas Outlook uses IE engine. So Thunderbird has same security advantages as Firefox.

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    IMAP Service for Multicomputer users

    The support for IMAP service is poor in both Thunderbird and Outlook. This is mainly required by the people who use multi-computers. Constructive work is being done by open source coders regarding this for Thunderbird. The constructive work has resulted in usage of threads more efficiently and retrieval of IMAP folders without lockups. However, things get worse when the folders are deleted or created at its back. Displaying threads in Outlook has improved when compared to the previous versions.

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    Are Flaky Rules Acceptable?

    Rules are flaky in Outlook. Sometimes, rules stop working altogether and to rectify this something has to be done between client and server side. This problem does not exist with Thunderbird but some important rules are missing in it like: Stop processing more rules and Display new email window.

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    Which is more secure?

    Thunderbird blocks remote images in email and is displayed on user request. While the previous versions of Outlook (XP and under) were vulnerable to viruses, this no longer applies to Outlook 2003 which actually offers some features that no other client offers. Blocking of attachments automatically is par for the course these days, so I'm glad it's finally done automatically, but Outlook 2003 will also block images in emails by default (which you can turn off for specific senders by adding them to your address book). Thunderbird and Outlook provides security features like Digital signature, message encryption, certificates verification. But I found it more efficient in Thunderbird then Outlook.

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    Appearance or Security

    Integrated calendar of Outlook is already useful in itself, but functions even better in the presence of an Exchange server. This makes outlook to rank better than Thunderbird. Thunderbird does not have an in-built calendar with it, but it is made possible using the add-ons available in the open source. Thunderbird does not support public folders. It might improve security but sharing of resources is reduced leading to reduction in usability. The appearance of Outlook always beat that of Thunderbird. Considering all the security issues, Thunderbird overweighs Outlook.

    Therefore, it totally depends on the user’s perspective to rank between security and appearance and choose the right client.

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    Intenet Explorer Versus Firefox

    For a discussion on security in Internet Explorer vs security in Firefox, see our article Firefox versus Internet Explorer: which is more secure?