Experts Break Down the Browser Battle

In the ongoing battle for web browsing market share superiority, Internet Explorer continues to reign supreme.

Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Internet Explorer is the market share leader in web browsers, but is not the overwhelming favorite from a privacy standpoint.

However, being the most used web browser by an almost 3:1 rate does not mean it's the overwhelming favorite of security experts. In fact, third-party analysts say having the most market share actually means Internet Explorer is the most vulnerable of the four major web browsers. Its competitors, Mozilla Firefox, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Chrome, and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Safari, do not face the same number of attacks that Internet Explorer does.

"Internet Explorer has the largest footprint and thus it's the browser hackers love to target the most," Michael Gregg, chief operating officer of Superior Solutions, a virus tracking firm.

Microsoft's security measures were recently called into question when a report from The Wall Street Journal indicated the company passed up security tracking measures in order to not impede online advertising.

Still, this does not mean people are better off avoiding Internet Explorer all together. Rapid7 security researcher Ryan Abraham says Microsoft has made great strides in improving later versions of Internet Explorer.

"When we looked at it and did research in terms of privacy, Internet Explorer got privacy correct and Firefox had issues. You are talking about what type of information your browser will be leaking," Abraham said. "They are making leaps and bounds from where they were ten years ago."

One of the problems with Internet Explorer's perception, he said, is a lot of people still use Internet Explorer 6. The earlier version is extremely vulnerable, and newer iterations better protect a user's information.  

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company made significant strides in improving security for users in Internet Explorer 8. This includes SmartScreen Filter, Cross-Site Scripting filter, and Clickjacking prevention. Clickjacking is a technique whereby hackers trick web surfers into revealing confidential information.

However despite this, Abraham said his browser of choice is Mozilla Firefox. "It's the browser I use and I tell my clients to use. I tell them to get the No Script plug in, because by default the browser is weak. The "No Script" plug in doesn't prevent all attacks, but it severely limits them," he said.

While Firefox or Safari are the browsers Gregg uses, he said Google Chrome stood up best to a contest that pitted hackers against the browsers. He said Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer were all hacked quickly. But Chrome, with its "sandboxing" technique, was able to stand up to the attempts at breaking in. The sandboxing technique limits what the browser can do when interfacing with the operating system.

Conversely, Abraham said in his company's tests, Google Chrome was "probably the worst from a privacy perspective."

Meanwhile Apple's Safari, did not rate as favorably by the experts. Abraham said the MAC OS X, is a nice "juicy target" for hackers to exploit data. While Microsoft has updated Windows 7 to fight off these exploitations, Apple has yet to do that with its latest operating system.

Representatives from Apple, Google, and Mozilla could not be reached for comment.

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