Security firm NSS Labs have been running some tests on different modern web browsers to see how they defend and protect their users against socially-engineered malware. This is malware that attempts to trick users into installing it, much in the way Apple Mac users have been suffering with the recent spate of 'Mac Defender' malware.
They praise Internet Explorer's SmartScreen filter for protecting users against significantly more social malware than any other current browser, and by the looks of the chart below this is by some significant margin.
In their report the firm describe socially-engineered malware as...
Socially-engineered malware attacks pose a significant risk to individuals and organizations by threatening to compromise, damage, or acquire sensitive personal and corporate information; statistics from 2008 - 2010 show that this trend is increasing at a rapid rate. According to a recent study by AVG, users are four times more likely to be tricked into downloading malware than be compromised by an exploit; criminals continue to increase their use of malware as a cybercrime attack vector. Anti-virus researchers report detecting between 15,000 and 50,000 new malicious programs per day, Kaspersky Lab has even reported detecting up to “millions per month.”
They go on to describe IE's SmartScreen filter as...
The SmartScreen Filter protection offered by Windows Internet Explorer 9 has two components: URL Reputation, which is included in IE8 and Application Reputation, which is new to IE9. IE9 caught an exceptional 92% of the live threats with SmartScreen URL reputation, and an additional 8% with Application Reputation. IE9 with SmartScreen offers the best protection of any browser against socially engineered malware. Protection against malware targeting European users matched our broader findings from the Q3 2010 global test.
The results are quite something, and other browser makers, Apple, Mozilla and Google will no doubt fight back rigorously with strong statements that their browsers are every bit as safe and secure as Internet Explorer, if not more so.
In the tests though, Internet Explorer 8, the previous generation of Microsoft's browser, caught 90% of all live threats with IE9 catching 92% and reaching 100% of all threats when the known reputation of applications was factored in.
This is compared to the other browsers. Apple's Safari caught just 13% of live threats, Mozilla FIrefox 4 also caught 13% which had dropped from the 19% the browser caught in the same tests last year. Opera 11 caught only 5% of all threats and Google's Chrome browser caught, again, just 13% of all live threats.
StartScreen is not a widely talked about feature of Microsoft's browser. The company describes it as...
a feature in Internet Explorer that helps detect phishing websites. SmartScreen Filter can also help protect you from downloading or installing malware (malicious software).
They say that is "analyses web pages" as you visit them to "determine iof they have any characteristics that might be suspicious", "checks the sites you visit against a dynamic list of reported phishing sites and malicious software sites" and "checks files you download from the web against a list of reported malicious software sites and programs known to be unsafe."
This feature though is only as good as the people who keep the information up to date, which means that a 92% success rate today might not mean you'll get that tomorrow.
Every week, new social malware is being discovered that is trying to trick users into installing it and surrendering personal information such as their credit card details with ever increasing believability. The recent attacks on Apple Mac users by Mac Defender is an example of just how convincing this software can be.
The weak link with malware and viruses will always be the user, as it will always be this person who has to click or select something in order for malware to infect their PC. It's commonly said that the only safe PC is one that's still in the box and has never been switched on.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.