Security Corner

Feb 14 2009   3:54PM GMT

There is no "Super Secure" Browser

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

Security is a complicated process, leaving many to desire a magic bullet. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. No matter how much security developers build into software, the behavior of the person seated in the chair will always be the weak link. Truth be told, all of the major browsers are safer than the browsing habits of their users. I have advocated safe computing practices for years, especially when it comes to keeping operating systems and applications patched. Sure enough, the best protection against malware is a fully patched system.

Recently, Roger A. Grimes of InfoWorld posted “Browser Security Wars” in his Security Advisor blog. For several months, Grimes tested the five most popular Web browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari. His conclusion is no surprise:

So which one is guaranteed to make your Internet browsing experience perfectly safe?

None, of course. If you have the need for high security on a computer you manage, don’t allow it to surf on the public Web. It’s that simple. Internet browsers are highly complex pieces of software interacting with millions of combinations of highly complex active content and programming code, much of it not so friendly. There is no “super secure” browser.

Not exactly a great revelation; however, there is one surprising discovery: In Grimes’s testing, none of the browsers allowed malware to silently install as long as they were running on fully patched systems. Instead, most of them relied on tricking the user into intentionally running an infected executable:

Almost all the malicious Web sites I came across offered an executable to install, usually in the form of bogus anti-malware software or some sort of content player. In order to be infected, I had to intentionally run the offered executable — not always, but nearly so. There was a smattering of sites that tried to use malformed or mismatched content to trick the third-party software into silently executing code, but it was uncommon; and when my system was fully patched, it never silently succeeded. [Emphasis added]

You’ll find a comprehensive rundown of security features and faults of all the aforementioned browsers in InfoWorld’s special report, “InfoWorld Test Center’s guide to browser security.”

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