December 14, 2010, 2:16 PM — A new report from NSS Labs studies how various Web browsers perform when it comes to blocking socially-engineered attacks. The startling results show that Internet Explorer isn't just better than rival browsers like Chrome and Firefox--but leaves competitors completely in the dust.
Online attackers recognize that the Achilles heel in virtually any computer or network security scenario is the individual sitting behind the keyboard. There is no need to waste time or energy figuring out how to circumvent security controls and spread malware if you can just dupe naïve users into voluntarily running the malware.
NSS Labs reviewed Internet Explorer 8 and 9, Firefox 3.6, Safari 5, Chrome 6, and Opera 10 to see how well each browser helps users recognize and avoid these attacks. Data was collected 24/7 for eleven days, with 39 discrete tests run every six hours. The testing included 636 URLs identified as potentially malicious.
The NSS Labs Web Browser Security Socially-Engineered Malware Protection report clarifies the definition of a socially-engineered malware URL for the purposes of this testing: "a Web page link that directly leads to a download that delivers a malicious payload whose content type would lead to execution, or more generally a Web site known to host malware links. These downloads appear to be safe, like those for a screen saver application, video codec upgrade, etc., and are designed to fool the user into taking action. Security professionals also refer to these threats as "consensual" or "dangerous" downloads."
Opera does not have any security controls specifically designed to protect users from these types of attacks. However, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari do. All three rely on the Google Safe Browsing API which performed well below Microsoft's SmartScreen technology in previous testing. With the introduction of Google Safe Browsing v2, though, all three browsers experienced a significant decline from their already relatively low ability to identify and block malicious sites.
Meanwhile, Internet Explorer widened the gap. Internet Explorer 8 improved its results over the previous study--increasing from an 85% block rate to 90%. Internet Explorer 9, though--which wasn't available during the previous study--was nearly flawless.