Is IE9 really the safest of the big browsers?

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It’s pretty much a geek cliché these days: the only thing Internet Explorer’s good for is downloading Chrome. Turns out though that it might actually be really good at keeping you safe from malware.

In fact, a new study from security company NSS Labs suggests that Microsoft’s browser may actually provide better cover against malware than Chrome, Firefox, and Safari combined.

According to NSS, Internet Explorer “provides users with significant advantages”, blocking 95% of malicious activity, while Chrome is a distant second, blocking only 33%. Safari and Firefox both block less than six percent.

“Given Chrome’s prominence and increasing market share, we predict ongoing increases in click fraud unless Google takes serious steps to improve its click fraud protection,” said Dr. Stefan Frei, Research Director, at NSS Labs.

In order to do the research, the company conducted the study over a period of 175 days. Each browser was tested with all available updates installed on identical virtual machines running Microsoft Windows 7.

IE also came out tops when it came to click fraud malware, blocking 96.6%. By creating the appearance of legitimate ad click-throughs, click fraud scammers generate revenue for both fraudsters as well as legitimate ad networks. By way of comparison, Chrome stops only 1.6% and Firefox and Safari block only 0.8% and 0.7%, respectively.

That means if you’re an ad-buyer there’s a strong chance that most of the illegitimate clicks on your ads come from Chrome. Not great considering it’s the world’s most popular browser. Ad buyers purchase ads from ad publishers and are impacted by click fraud directly, as they pay for the total number of clicks (valid clicks and undetected click fraud).

End users can however sometimes get infected with other forms of malware once they’ve fallen victim to click-fraud, which is really more of a scam. “While it is apparent from these results that click fraud is a leading purpose of browser malware, it is surprising and concerning that there is such a large difference between blocked rates for other malware types vs. click fraud from browser to browser,” the report says.

Although The Next Web’s Emil Protalinski points out that NSS studies have previously been funded by Microsoft, the company does insist that this “was independent research done only by NSS Labs and was not sponsored by Microsoft.”

That said, the results of the research contrast sharply with a study by security company Kaspersky earlier this year. “What we recommend at Kaspersky Lab is Google Chrome. It’s not an advertisement, but this is the most secure, the most protected browser on the market now,” Sergey Novikov, head of Kaspersky Lab’s global research and analysis team said back in March. Accuvant agrees with that sentiment, or it did back in December 2011 at any rate.

Ultimately though, a browser is only going to be as safe as the person using it. Just like safest car in the world won’t stop you dying if you drive off a massive cliff, the safest browser in the world, whatever it is, won’t stop your computer infected if you spend your online time in the internet’s dodgiest recesses clicking on links you really shouldn’t be.

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  • Kurt

    NSS does work for a number of entities (such as big banks and governments) where they find security weaknesses in products the vendors are selling, for purchaser due diligence.
    They also do many public bake-off tests for fun. This is one of the latter.

  • Pingback: Firefox Daily News : September 29, 2012 | Firefox Daily

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