Internet Explorer Leads on Malware Security: Report

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 beta Web browser beat the competition on malware protection, an NSS Labs report finds.

A malware security report by NSS Labs found Windows Internet Explorer 9 beta caught an "exceptional" 99 percent of the live threats, leading the non-IE pack by 80 percent. Mozilla Firefox 3.6 caught 19 percent of the live threats, down 10 percent from the NSS Labs test conducted in the first quarter of 2010. IE9's protection includes SmartScreen URL filtering, which is included in IE8 as well as SmartScreen application reputation, which is new to IE9.

The report noted Apple's Safari 5 browser caught 11 percent of the live threats, with overall protection declining 18 percent from Q1 2010. Google Chrome 6 caught just three percent of the live threats, down 14 percent from the Q1 2010 test and Opera 10 brought up the rear-the browser caught zero percent of the live threats. The report concluded the browser provides virtually no protection against socially engineered malware.

From an initial list of 8,000 new suspicious sites, 1,209 potentially malicious URLs were prescreened for inclusion in the test and were available at the time of entry into the test. These were successfully accessed by the browsers in at least one run. On average, 124 new URLs were added to the test set per day. NSS Labs then assessed the browsers' ability to block malicious URLs as quickly as they found them on the Internet, and continued testing them every six hours to determine how long it took a vendor to add protection.

Trends show Safari and Firefox converging at a protection rate just under 20 percent, indicating that while they share the Google Safe Browser feed, there is a difference in each browser's implementation. The report noted the mean time to block a site (if it is blocked at all) was16.4 hours, and noted Chrome (with a mean time of 17.8 hours) and Safari (nearly 37.5 hours) were above average at adding new blocks. With the exception of Opera, which failed to block a single malware download, all browsers blocked at least one malware download, according to NSS Labs data.

"It became obvious from this test and comparisons to the earlier test that Microsoft continues to improve their IE malware protection in Internet Explorer 8 (through its SmartScreen Filter technology) and in Internet Explorer 9 (with the addition of SmartScreen application reputation technology). With a unique URL blocking score of 94 percent and over-time protection rating of 99 percent, Internet Explorer 9 was by far the best at protecting against socially-engineered malware," the report concluded. "The 89 percent zero-hour block rate suggests a far superior malware identification, collection, and classification method," the report noted.

The test, conducted in September 2010, was the company's fourth test of Web browser protection against socially engineered malware-which the company said is the most common and impactful security threat facing Internet users today. This report followed the same Live Testing methodology as the tests conducted in Q1 2009, Q3 2009, and Q1 2010. The report contains empirically-validated evidence gathered during 11 days of 24 x 7 testing, performed every six hours, over 39 discrete test runs, each one adding fresh new malware URLs. Each product was updated to the most current version available at the time testing began, and allowed access to the live Internet.