Why Korea can’t get rid of Internet Explorer

SEOUL – In Korea, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, there are very few limits to what can be done conveniently online – except in case you’re using it wrong. Web browser.

On Google Chrome, you cannot make online business payments as a corporate customer of one of the country’s largest foreign banks. If you’re using Apple’s Safari, you can’t apply for artist sponsorship through the National Arts and Culture website. And if you’re the owner of a child care facility, you can’t register your organization with Mozilla’s Firefox Department of Health and Welfare website.

In all of these cases, Microsoft Internet Explorer or a similar alternative is the required browser.

When Microsoft turn off Internet Explorer, or IE, on June 15, the company said it will begin redirecting users to its newer Edge browser in the coming months. Notice Inspirational jokes and memes Internet anniversary of last year. But in Korea, IE is not some online artifact. The defunct browser is still needed for a handful of important banking and government-related tasks that many can’t live without.

South Korea’s allegiance to Internet Explorer, 27 years after its introduction and now retired, offers a heavy irony: A country known for its brilliant broadband and creative device bound by a buggy and insecure piece of software long abandoned by most of the world.

Most Korean websites work in every browser, including Google Chrome, which accounts for about 54% of the country’s Internet usage. Internet Explorer less than 1 percent, according to Statcounter. However, following the announcement from Microsoft, there was a last-minute scramble between several sites needed to prepare for the post-IE release.

Korean branch of British bank Standard Chartered corporate customers alert in May that they would need to start using the Edge browser in “IE mode” to access its “Straight2Bank” online banking platform. Many Korean government websites have informed users that some services may experience disruption if they do not switch to Edge.

In May, Naver, one of South Korea’s largest internet companies, highlighted a feature of its Whale browser that allows access to websites that require Internet Explorer. Kim Hyo, head of the Naver’s Whale team, said the company initially added the option in 2016. He thinks it won’t be necessary when Microsoft shuts down IE.

But as the final days approached, Kim realized that some Korean websites wouldn’t convert in time, so he kept the feature and renamed it “Internet Explorer mode. Modernizing websites that have served IE for decades, he said, is “a pretty big task,” and some sites “have missed the deadline.”

Korea’s dependence on Internet Explorer dates back to the 1990s, when the country became a pioneer in using the Internet for banking and shopping. To protect online transactions, the government passed legislation in 1999 requiring encrypted digital certificates for any matter that previously required a signature.

Verifying a person’s identity requires additional software connected to the browser, called a plug-in. The Korean government has authorized five companies to issue such digital certificates using a Microsoft plug-in called ActiveX. But the plug-in only works on Internet Explorer.

At the time, using the Microsoft plug-in seemed like the obvious choice. Microsoft Windows software dominated the personal computer market in the 1990s, and Internet Explorer took advantage of that position to become the dominant browser. Because important Korean sites required IE, other sites started serving Microsoft’s browser, reinforcing its importance. According to an estimateInternet Explorer accounted for 99% of the market share in Korea from 2004 to 2009.

James Kim, who led Microsoft in Korea from 2009 to 2015. Mr. Kim, who now heads the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, said that Microsoft was not trying to stifle competition, but a lot of things.” doesn’t work” without IE.

Kim Keechang, a law professor at Korea University in Seoul, said Internet Explorer’s tie to South Korea in the early 2000s was such that most Koreans “couldn’t name another browser.” .

When Professor Kim returned to Korea in 2002 after teaching abroad, he discovered that he could not do anything online with a computer running Linux, a free and open source alternative to Windows. and Firefox. Every year, he goes to an internet cafe to access a computer with an IE browser to file taxes on a government website.

In 2007, Professor Kim filed a lawsuit against the Korea Institute of Financial Telecommunication & Clearings, one of five government-approved private companies tasked with issuing digital certificates. He argued that the company, which issues about 80% of Korean certificates, unfairly discriminated against him by not allowing other browsers.

Over three years, Professor Kim lost the case, lost the case, lost the case at the Supreme Court of the country. But his court battle drew wider attention to the pitfalls of the South Korean system, especially after a cyber attack in 2009 exploited ActiveX to spread malware on Korean computers.

With the advent of the smartphone, an industry built on software from Apple and Google, Korea, as well as many countries around the world, began to reduce its reliance on Microsoft. In 2010, water issued instructions that government websites must be compatible with three different web browsers. But changing Korea’s internet system hasn’t been easy – especially when banks and credit card companies stand in front of the existing system.

As public opinion changed, users protested the inconvenience of having to use ActiveX for online purchases. Critics say the technology hasn’t served its purpose because plug-in software makes users less secure.

Microsoft introduced Edge in 2015 as a replacement for Internet Explorer, and the company says it doesn’t support ActiveX in the new browser. Chrome had become the country’s top browser three years earlier.

In 2020, South Korea amended its 1999 law to remove the need for digital certificates, a move that seemed to shut down ActiveX and Internet Explorer. That same year, Microsoft began removing support for IE in some of its online services. A year later, the company announced that it planned to stop using Internet Explorer altogether.

While much of the world joked about the demise of Internet Explorer, a Korean engineer marked the event in an even more somber fashion.

Jung Ki-young, a 39-year-old software developer, erected a tombstone for IE on the rooftop of his brother’s coffee shop in Gyeongju, a city on the southeastern coast of South Korea, about a block from Seoul. about 170 miles. He paid $330 for the monument, which is engraved with the browser’s recognizable “e” logo and the words: “He’s a good tool for downloading other browsers.”

Mr. Jung said he shared his frustrations with Internet Explorer, but he felt the browser that introduced so many Koreans to the web deserved a proper goodbye.

“Using Internet Explorer is difficult and frustrating, but it also serves a good purpose,” said Mr. Jung. “I don’t feel good just giving it up with a ‘we don’t need you anymore’ attitude.”

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