Best Browser for Stopping Malware

Thursday, August 18, 2011 @ 02:08 PM gHale

There are web browsers and then there are web browsers and if you want protection against socially engineered malware, then Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is tops, according to a new report.

IE9 detected 96 percent of malicious links worldwide via its SmartScreen URL reputation feature, and another 3.2 percent when they enabled the Application Reputation feature, according to the report from independent testing organization NSS Labs.

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Second on the list was Google Chrome 12, which caught 13.2 percent of the threats; Apple Safari 5, which detected 7.6 percent; Mozilla Firefox 4, which also detected 7.6 percent; and Opera 11, which found 6.1 percent.

Malware from websites is one of the three main threat vectors for browsers; phishing attacks and exploits are the other two. The new test results demonstrate IE9 is best in stopping malware, said Rick Moy, president and chief executive of NSS Labs.

“It would not be correct to say that this says IE is the safest browser. It would be correct to say it stops more malware [than other browsers],” Moy said. NSS Labs also plans to test all of the browser brands in stopping phishing and exploits, he said.

A Mozilla spokesperson said the test is just one measurement of browser security. “Being safe on the Web certainly does mean avoiding downloads from sites you don’t trust, but it also includes robust browser defenses against malware and phishing, new technologies to help sites and users secure themselves, and a responsive security team that gets security updates out quickly and reliably,” the spokesperson said.

Microsoft’s SmartScreen feature is basically a blacklist of malware-pushing URLs, while Application Reputation is more of a white list/gray list feature that checks for known good and known bad applications, NSS Labs’ Moy said. “Plus it does, ‘I haven’t seen this before, it might be risky.'”

NSS Labs noted Microsoft’s unique position when it comes to amassing a reputation system. “The significance of Microsoft’s new application reputation technology cannot be overstated. Application reputation is the first attempt by any vendor to create a definitive list of every application on the Internet. This new capability helps users discern malware and potentially unsafe software from actual good software,” the NSS Labs report said. “The list is dynamically created and maintained, much the same way Google [or Bing] is continuously building and maintaining a library of content for search purposes.”

Microsoft also improved its turnaround time for blocking URL malware attacks in the new NSS Labs tests. “Microsoft continues to invest in SmartScreen functionality and takes action to address harmful sites as quickly as possible. Last year, NSS Labs reported that IE9 would block an attack in 3.99 hours. Their most recent report indicates IE9 now recognizes new attacks in 2.85 hours with SmartScreen filter and in under an hour when also using Application Reputation,” Microsoft said in a statement.

Click here to download for a full copy of the lab report.

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