By: Emma Kavanagh
Speed, plugins, compatibility and security: Those are the features most people consider when selecting a browser to support online activities. In the case of latter, choosing well can be vitally important for protecting a computer and the data it contains from malware. But, just how secure are web browsers today and is there one that stands above the others when it comes to locking down potential online threats?
The answer to those questions might surprise. According to NSS Labs, the company that researches IT products and their effectiveness, says there really isn’t a leader of the pack when all things are considered. While browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Internet Explorer are the most commonly used, they offer a mixed bag of results when it comes to security. To be sure, all five do offer forms of protection, but the fact of the matter is none are foolproof.
Browsers and Malware
In order to access websites, check social media accounts and even get web-based emails, it’s necessary to have a browser installed on a computer. This portal into the online world serves as a launch point for many activities. Inasmuch, browsers are a favorite target for hackers to go after as they attempt to plant malware on computers. NSS Labs, in fact, says browsers are “the primary vector by which malware is introduced to computers” in its 2013 CAR Browser Socially Engineered Malware report.
Browsers are used by those who plant malware in a number of ways. They are vulnerable to delivering up compromised web sites, downloads infected with Trojans, links to phishing emails and more. The Top 5 most commonly used browsers do offer malware blocking features, but NSS Labs’ report concludes that none of them are 100 percent effective in doing so.
Here’s how the Top 5 stacked up in NSS Labs’ most recent testing of browsers and malware:
- Internet Explorer: This browser performed the best in blocking malware with a 99.96 success rate.
- Chrome: Google’s entry into the browser market came in second with at 83.16 percent.
- Safari 5: This browser came in far behind IE and Chrome with a 10.15 percent success rate.
- Firefox: Its 9.92 percent success rate puts it near the bottom of the pack.
- Opera: “Offered virtually no malicious download protection, with a 1.87 percent score,” NSS Labs’ report found.
Other Security Features
Browsers often do more than just attempt to block and protect from malware. Phishing and privacy protections are also among the security features touted. NSS Labs also conducts tests that compare browsers and their ability to protect against these things. On these points, the Top 5 browsers also showed a mixed bag of results. All major browsers, for example, allow third-party cookies onto systems with the exception of Safari that blocks and Internet Explorer that provides a partial block. In regard to Phishing, Chrome and IE performed the best, but again, no single browser was 100 percent successful.
The takeaway from NSS Labs’ browser security studies is relatively simple: There is no single browser that provides a solid lock on Internet activity. While some perform very well at protecting users from the pitfalls of online usage, none are 100 percent infallible. With that in mind, it’s important for computer owners to take extra measures to protect themselves when their online.
There are measures that can be taken to boost security when online. In addition to relying on a browser’s built-in protections, users can:
- Exercise caution when following links, especially those that arrive via email.
- Run scans on a regular basis.
- Take care when downloading anything new via the Internet.
- Steer clear of unknown websites.
- Use antivirus and antimalware protections.
- NSS Labs: 2013 Browser Security Comparative Analysis: Socially Engineered Malware
- Malwarebytes: Fake Browser Updates Going Rampant
- Techsupportalert.com: How to Harden Your Browser Against Malware and Privacy Concerns
- InfoWorld: Chrome browser will block malware downloads