IE Unsecure for Over 9 Months in 2006, Firefox, Nine Days

Most of us probably knew this already but Internet Explorer (IE) is one of the most unsecured browsers on the planet. Last year alone, it was unsecure for 284 according to a Washington Post article by Brian Krebs.

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Washington Post: “Internet Explorer unsafe for 284 days in 2006” (Ars Technica)

Security Fix spent the past several weeks compiling statistics on how long it took some of the major software vendors to issue patches for security flaws in their products. Since Windows is the most-used operating system in the world, it makes sense to lead off with data on Microsoft’s security updates in 2006.

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Several weeks prior to posting this information, I shared the data I had gathered with Microsoft. The officials I dealt with helpfully concurred or quibbled slightly with some of my findings, but the company raised no objections that would materially affect the results presented in this particular study of IE flaws. In fact, if you examine the links included in the vulnerability chart that accompanies this post, you can see for yourself how the data is supported by information posted on the Web over the past year.

For all its touted security improvements, the release of Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 7 browser in November came too late in the year to improve the lot of IE users, who make up roughly 80 percent of the world’s online community. For a total 284 days in 2006 (or more than nine months out of the year), exploit code for known, unpatched critical flaws in pre-IE7 versions of the browser was publicly available on the Internet. Likewise, there were at least 98 days last year in which no software fixes from Microsoft were available to fix IE flaws that criminals were actively using to steal personal and financial data from users.

In a total of ten cases last year, instructions detailing how to leverage “critical” vulnerabilities in IE were published online before Microsoft had a patch to fix them.

Microsoft labels software vulnerabilities “critical” — its most severe rating — if the flaws could be exploited to criminal advantage without any action on the part of the user, or by merely convincing an IE user to click on a link, visit a malicious Web site, or open a specially crafted e-mail or e-mail attachment.

In contrast, Internet Explorer’s closest competitor in terms of market share — Mozilla’s Firefox browser — experienced a single period lasting just nine days last year in which exploit code for a serious security hole was posted online before Mozilla shipped a patch to remedy the problem.

That is one thing that I will give Microsoft credit for, at least they admit they have security issues in their software these days. Ten years ago, Microsoft would have laughed in Mr. Krebs’ face and sent him on his way. Additionally, Firefox’s security is unsurpassed. I remember the mentioned nine day period and a few people I knew thought the sky was falling. However, when you compare 284 days versus nine days that’s a pretty damn secure web browser.


See also