IE blows away rivals in browser security

A study finds Internet Explorer leaves other browsers in the dust when defending against socially-engineered malware attacks

A new report from NSS Labs studies how various Web browsers perform when it comes to blocking socially-engineered attacks. The startling results show that Internet Explorer isn't just better than rival browsers like Chrome and Firefox -- but leaves competitors completely in the dust.

Online attackers recognize that the Achilles heel in virtually any computer or network security scenario is the individual sitting behind the keyboard. There is no need to waste time or energy figuring out how to circumvent security controls and spread malware if you can just dupe naïve users into voluntarily running the malware.

NSS Labs reviewed Internet Explorer 8 and 9, Firefox 3.6, Safari 5, Chrome 6, and Opera 10 to see how well each browser helps users recognize and avoid these attacks. Data was collected 24/7 for eleven days, with 39 discrete tests run every six hours. The testing included 636 URLs identified as potentially malicious.

The NSS Labs Web Browser Security Socially-Engineered Malware Protection report clarifies the definition of a socially-engineered malware URL for the purposes of this testing: "a Web page link that directly leads to a download that delivers a malicious payload whose content type would lead to execution, or more generally a Web site known to host malware links. These downloads appear to be safe, like those for a screen saver application, video codec upgrade, etc., and are designed to fool the user into taking action. Security professionals also refer to these threats as "consensual" or "dangerous" downloads."

Opera does not have any security controls specifically designed to protect users from these types of attacks. However, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari do. All three rely on the Google Safe Browsing API which performed well below Microsoft's SmartScreen technology in previous testing. With the introduction of Google Safe Browsing v2, though, all three browsers experienced a significant decline from their already relatively low ability to identify and block malicious sites.

Meanwhile, Internet Explorer widened the gap. Internet Explorer 8 improved its results over the previous study -- increasing from an 85 percent block rate to 90 percent. Internet Explorer 9, though -- which wasn't available during the previous study -- was nearly flawless.

The NSS Labs Results Summary explains, "Windows Internet Explorer 9 (still in beta) caught an exceptional 99 percent of the live threats, in part due to a new application reputation system, leading the non-IE pack by 80 percent. IE9's protection includes SmartScreen URL filtering, also included in IE8, and SmartScreen Application Reputation, which is new to IE9."

The new security control in IE9 analyzes data to determine the reputation of a given file in an attempt to minimize the pop-up alerts displayed to users while still identifying potentially malicious executables. A post from October on the IEBlog explains the new IE9 SmartScreen Application Reputation protection. "With SmartScreen Application Reputation, IE9 warns you before you run or save a higher risk program that may be an attempt to infect your computer with socially engineered malware. IE9 also stays out of the way for downloads with an established reputation."

To be fair, the NSS Labs report is focused on a specific type of threat. NSS Labs did not evaluate browser security in terms of flaws or vulnerabilities in the browsers themselves, or within browser add-ins. However, socially-engineered attacks are prevalent and increasing, and it seems that IE -- whether IE8 or IE9 -- is uniquely prepared to help defend users from the threat.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags NSS Labsspamantispambrowser securityMicrosoftvirusessecurityphishingInternet ExplorermalwareFirefox

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?