In a test designed to analyze various Web browsers’ abilities to protect European users against socially engineered malware attacks, researchers at NSS Labs determined that Internet Explorer 8 and 9 were significantly more effective at curbing malicious downloads than were the other major browsers.
While these findings only represent browser protection against socially engineered malware threats targeting Europeans (as opposed to malware that exploits vulnerabilities in software, browsers, etc. to compromise PCs), the NSS Labs report claims these findings very closely match corresponding global findings from the earlier Q3 2010 Global Test.
IE 8 and 9 did remarkably well, maintaining an average block rate of 90 percent and 92 percent respectively throughout the experiment. However, the 92 percent figure for IE 9 is somewhat misleading, because it was measured without enabling the Application Reputation feature which is enabled by default in IE 9. So in reality, with Application Reputation feature enabled, the browser blocked 100 percent of malicious downloads.
These figures are especially impressive when you compare them to NSS Labs findings with regards to the other browsers they tested. Firefox 4, and Chrome 10 had identical average blockage rates of 13 percent. Firefox dropped off a bit in this category, having blocked 19 percent of these threats in the previous global test. On the other hand, Chrome showed an impressive improvement from that Q3 2010 global test, where it only managed to block some 3 percent of socially engineered threats.
Opera only managed to catch 5 percent of live threats, but according to the report, this figure is a vast improvement from previous years when Opera provided no measurable protection from such threats.
The above numbers are averages, but interestingly, Chrome, Firefox and Safari all converged at a 17 percent protection rate. The report claims that the reason for these similarities is that they all use Google Safe Browsing API, so, while the browsers may differ initially in their implementation, their eventual convergence is unsurprising.
Block rate isn’t the only important factor here though. It is also important to note the amount of time it takes a given browser to block a malicious site. The story for this statistic was much the same, with AppRep enabled IE 9 averaging 0 hours, Safari averaging 5 hours, Chrome averaging 7 hours, Firefox averaging 8 hours, IE 8 averaging 14 hours and Opera averaging more than 48 hours. It is interesting to note though, that if you remove the AppRep feature from IE 9, that browser then takes almost fourteen hours to block a malicious site on average.
You can find the entire NSS Labs report here.