When a massive spam attack posted violent and pornographic images across the news feeds of many Facebook users, many wondered how hackers had launched the attack. Turns out, it was by exploiting a vulnerability in users’ web browsers.
The event shed light on an often-overlooked issue of online security, your web browser. There are many browsers available, such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. But the real question is: which browser offers the most protection from malware, adware, viruses, and hackers?
Many browsers are fighting for market share, and therefore paying more attention to their security, but popularity and security are not always equal.
A recent Accuvant study revealed that Chrome (the second most popular browser) ranks as the most secure web browser when compared to Internet Explorer (the most popular) and Firefox. Interestingly, this month the German government named Chrome the most secure browser, perhaps lending weight to the study. However, critics have pointed out that the study was commissioned by Google (creator of Chrome), and the findings may therefore be skewed.
Still, according to the study, Chrome ranks the highest in creating and putting into use new safety measures to boost its security, with Internet Explorer only slightly behind Chrome. Firefox was deemed the least secure in the study.
Despite these recent findings, the browser wars remain a hot-button issue, with various entities dubbing some browsers more secure than others. During the 2011 hacker conference, Pwn2Own, hackers attacked four popular browsers: Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome. The hackers were able to quickly compromise Internet Explorer and Safari. In fact, these hackers were able to hack the browsers so thoroughly that they managed to write files on the hard drive of the computer they were attacking. Interestingly (and contrary to the Accuvant study findings), Chrome and Firefox both resisted hacking attacks during the exercise.
Regardless of the browser, manufacturers are always working to ensure users can enjoy surfing the web safely and securely—and that’s the good news. The bad news, as the Pwn2Own conference revealed, is that cybercriminals worldwide are also working hard to figure out new ways to hack your browser.
This means that it’s important for users to educate themselves about this threat and take the steps necessary to lessen their chances of falling victim to a browser security breach. What should you do? Keep the following tips in mind.
- If you plan to download a new or different browser, make sure you are downloading a legitimate version. Go directly to the manufacturer’s site, and ignore ads or popups (which may be tricks to get you to install a corrupt version).
- Set your online preferences to allow for software updates. Some browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Safari, will automatically update with your operating system. But others, including Firefox, automatically update themselves to deploy security patches and provide enhanced security features.
- Set your browser’s security settings to the highest possible to prevent others from exploiting your browser.
- Disable popups in your browsers or install security software that prevents popup windows. Deploying infected popups is a popular way that hackers trick users into downloading malware.
No matter which browser you use, always follow safe practices and be alert to any unusual or suspicious functioning when you log onto the web.