Best Browser for Malware Protection?
Web browsers are used to interact with the Internet more than any other type of software. So it’s no surprise that the latest malware tries to infiltrate computers via Web browsers. But which browser does the best job of protecting you? Read on for some surprising test results...
Which Browsers Protect You From Malicious Content?
The front lines of defense against viruses, spyware and other forms of malware are your firewall and your anti-virus protection. If you're not sure you've got those two important pieces of software in place, see my related articles Do I Really Need a Firewall and Free Anti-Virus Programs before continuing.
The online security landscape is constantly evolving, not unlike an arms race. New threats emerge, and the software to defend against them is released. Because most users now have anti-virus software, the evil forces who create malware have turned their gaze to a new attack vector -- your web browser.
The most popular browsers attempt to keep users safe from such attacks by blocking access to malicious Web pages and downloads of malicious executable files. The latest releases of Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera all have security features baked into their code. But there is a huge gap between the most and least effective of the top five browsers’ defenses. And you might be surprised to learn which browser keeps you safest.
Security experts at NSS Labs, Inc., tested the five leading browsers against a sample of 754 “active and malicious” URLs (web page addresses) to see what percentage were caught by each browser’s defenses. You can read the complete NSS browser safety report, but the summary results are simple and stunning:
|Internet Explorer 10||99.96%|
|Google Chrome 25/26||83.16%|
Clearly, only IE 10 and Chrome can be taken seriously if you are looking for a browser that protects you from malicious Web content. But what accounts for the dismal performance of Safari, Firefox, and especially Opera, and the narrower but significant difference between IE and Chrome?
Firefox, Safari, and Chrome all use the Google Safe Search API, a “reputation” system that blocks access to URLs that are labeled “malicious” in a database compiled by Google in the course of its Web indexing and from user reports. Safe Search is all that Firefox and Safari use, so it’s no surprise that their effectiveness rates are very similar in this test. The test indicates that Safe Search alone is only about 10% effective in blocking Web-based malware.
Chrome also includes Google’s Download Protection, which judges the reputation of an executable file instead of just the URL. The home page of your bank may be perfectly harmless and not blocked by Safe Search. But a hacker may have embedded in that page code that secretly downloads a malware program to your computer and runs it. Google’s Download Protection detects and blocks such files. So the URL-based Safe Search provides about 10% of Chrome’s protection, and the file-based Download Protection provides the other 73%, for a total effectiveness rate of 83.16%.
Microsoft has its own URL-based reputation system called SmartScreen. It blocked over 83% of malware in the test. Additionally, Microsoft’s Application Reputation system blocks executable files, as Google’s Download Protection does. But there is an important difference between the approaches to “reputation” taken by Google and Microsoft.
The NSS study tested IE10, the latest version of Microsoft's browser. I can't extrapolate from the NSS study, but IE9 offers both Smartscreen Filter and the Application Reputation feature. So my guess is that it would perform on par with IE10 as far as blocking malicious websites. For those on XP systems, IE8 has Smartscreen filter, but not Application Reputation.
Do You Feel Lucky?
Google blocks URLs and files that are definitely untrustworthy; that is, they have been deemed “probably malicious.” Microsoft blocks URLs and files that are not trusted enough; that is, they are deemed “possibly malicious.” Google depends on what is known about a URL or file. Microsoft takes into account what is unknown; it errs on the side of caution. That’s good if you’re looking at security, but bad if you want to visit an obscure Web site or download an unpopular file. The downside of this extra-cautious approach is that you could be blocked from accessing perfectly safe content.
Opera uses a hodgepodge of small reputation partners that provide virtually no protection against malicious URLs or files. If you use Opera, you absolutely must use a third-party anti-malware program that includes real-time scanning for malicious websites as well.
In fact, such backup defenses are important no matter what browser you use. All of the browser defense mechanisms allow users to decide whether they want to ignore the browser’s warning and proceed to load a web page or download a file. Human judgment is often wrong, and that’s when you really need a security program that detects and stops suspicious activity on your system.
Does your browser or security suite include scanning for malicious web content? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 16 May 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Best Browser for Malware Protection? (Posted: 16 May 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved