According to research from independent security company NSS Labs, IE 8 detected almost three times as many socially engineered malware links as Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari.
IE 8 blocked 81 percent of socially engineered malware URLs, defined as links pretending to be legitimate in order to lure users into downloading malware. The other browsers did not fare nearly as well-Firefox 3 caught 27 percent, Apple Safari 4 caught 21 percent and Google Chrome 2 caught 7 percent. The Opera 10 beta only blocked 1 percent of the links.
IE 8 and Firefox were essentially neck-and-neck in catching phishing sites, blocking 83 and 80 percent respectively. Opera 10 blocked 54 percent, Chrome blocked 26 percent and Safari 2 percent.
"Technically, the SmartScreen reputation system that feeds IE 8 had good coverage of malicious sites and was able to get warnings to the users quickly," said Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs. "It's a big problem, and they appear to be putting significant resources into it."
When NSS Labs tested the browsers earlier in 2009, IE 8 caught 69 percent of socially engineered malware. Detection for Firefox and Safari dropped slightly by about 3 percent, while Chrome went from catching 16 percent of socially engineered malware sites to about 8 percent in the recent test.
"Chrome 2 performed very consistently, albeit very poorly. Chrome 2 lost the most ground compared to Internet Explorer 8 over the two tests, declining 8 percent and blocking 74 percent fewer malicious sites than the leader," the NSS Labs report said. "Users should not expect any protection against socially engineered malware from Opera 10 Beta."
Each of the major browser vendors has taken its own steps to bolster security in the latest editions of their products, from IE 8's cross-site scripting filter to new malware protections in Firefox. In Chrome 2.0, Google included protections against cross-site request forgery and clickjacking. Still, with the threat landscape continuing to grow, enterprises would do well to consider browsers with the most protection, Moy said.
"Enterprises need to base their security strategies as well as product purchase, configuration and management decisions off of empirical, up-to-date data," Moy said. "So, if two browsers both meet a company's business needs, then the one that offers a free additional layer of protection should be compelling."