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The good old FF browser gets little love when it comes to security

Firefox has its plate full when it comes to security.  It has grown a substantial enough market share to place it in a strong second after Microsoft.  This gives it a high profile and leaves it a desirable target to be exploited by hackers and malware writers.  Worse yet, it has less money to fund security efforts that Microsoft, and according to some experts, less focus as well.

While small market share browsers like Opera and Chrome have built a reputation on their security (with Safari, being a noticeable exception, have a reputation for insecurity), Firefox continues to plod along in a day to day fight, trying to remain a secure platform while dealing with the challenges of browser celebrity.

Perhaps for this reason, Bit9, an application whitelisting firm that helps employers block employee access to certain apps, placed Firefox on the top its list of most vulnerable apps.  The remaining spots on the list were filled out with more familiar names, with two through twelve respectively being: Adobe Flash & Acrobat; EMC VMware Player, Workstation, and other products; Sun Java Runtime Environment; Apple QuickTime, Safari, and iTunes; Symantec Norton products; Trend Micro OfficeScan; Citrix products; Aurigma and Lycos image uploaders; Skype; Yahoo Assistant; and Microsoft Windows Live Messenger.

The Bit9 study looked at several factors in ranking vulnerability.  One factor was how popular the applications were.  Another factor was how many known vulnerabilities existed, and how severe they were.  Lastly, it looked at how hard patching was for the particular application.

In order to make the list, programs hand to run in Windows and not be centrally updatable via services such as Microsoft SMS and WSUS.  Many say that the survey was unfair to Apple products because it kept easier patched Microsoft applications off the list.

In some ways, though Bit9's list is a useful benchmark.  It aptly points out that many networks have Firefox installations running on machines, without the system administrator being fully aware of the instance of these installs.  Thus, despite the fact that most of the vulnerabilities looked at have been patched, the installs may not receive these patches immediately, until the employee upgrades to the next edition of the browser.

The study's conclusions only marginally apply to the consumer market.  However, when it comes to the business market, the study argues that picking or allowing employees to run Firefox, even with its security plug-ins, is a ticket to the IT danger zone as malware increasingly targets application layer targets such as Firefox.

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RE: vulnerabilities
By Gzus666 on 12/12/2008 8:45:50 PM , Rating: -1
Firefox auto updates champ. Nice plug for your "Microsoft at any cost" agenda though.

RE: vulnerabilities
By CZroe on 12/12/2008 9:22:04 PM , Rating: 5
Auto-update is exactly what they DON'T want in a controlled IT environment. They need to roll out the patcches from their own update server for proper documentation and control. What if an update breaks their business app and patches something that has nothing to do with their usage scenario and it gets rolled out to 300+ workstations? Testing must be done first. If an update is needed, they have no guarantee that all network computers have installed it without being forced and documented by an IT update server.

RE: vulnerabilities
By sprockkets on 12/13/08, Rating: -1
RE: vulnerabilities
By CZroe on 12/13/2008 8:30:16 AM , Rating: 3
Have some imagination: Web apps (NCR's QuickLook for example), web forms, etc.

RE: vulnerabilities
By CZroe on 12/14/2008 10:36:50 AM , Rating: 2
Also, off-line software can't update itself but can still be an entry point for an unauthorized user. Contrary to the assumed usage scenario, not all browsers can reach their maker's update servers so they must support a centralized, approved, and managed distribution point.

RE: vulnerabilities
By sprockkets on 12/14/08, Rating: -1
RE: vulnerabilities
By ninus3d on 12/15/2008 7:48:27 AM , Rating: 1
What the...
I'm sorry, what on earth caused that outburst?

RE: vulnerabilities
By Culexus on 12/13/2008 4:08:19 PM , Rating: 2
So what you're saying is that Mozilla(or some other crafty people) should come up with a configurable update server for Firefox that the IT departments in companies can use to distribute updates for Firefox. That with such a system in place, administrators would jump right on it and purge Internet Explorer usage on their networks in favor of Firefox?

Sounds like a good idea,certainly sounds doable, now where would one go to suggest such an idea?

RE: vulnerabilities
By Solandri on 12/13/2008 7:33:28 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah, the last couple IT shops I've worked at specifically banned IE because of its vulnerabilities and had everyone use Firefox. But a centralized means to manage Firefox updates would be sweet.

RE: vulnerabilities
By aapocketz on 12/15/2008 10:26:06 AM , Rating: 2
A friend of mine works at a company where many have installed firefox and they have really poor bandwidth. Apparently firefox by default downloads updates when released, and this kill the bandwidth for a bit after that happens because all the browsers are downloading the updates at once. They should release an "enterprise" version of firefox that allows IT orgs to manage and distribute patches and perhaps even regulate what plugins/extensions are used, because that has to be a security hole.

I don't have any issues though, I like firefox as it is, mostly. I wish it had the tab separation that opera and chrome do, and run tabs in separate processes perhaps. That would make it easier to "tear off" a tab to a separate window. It may also help security, help manage memory, and take more advantage of multiprocessor resources. Tabs logically should run as different processes in my opinion because they are very "orthogonal," they do not need to share memory or anything between tabs. Just a theory though.

RE: vulnerabilities
By Hoser McMoose on 12/15/2008 7:58:35 PM , Rating: 2
That's almost it, except that IT departments aren't going to want to run a separate server JUST to update Firefox.

What the Mozilla folks should do is to get WSUS and Microsoft Update to update Firefox automatically. Of course Microsoft isn't going to want to play nice here so this could be difficult if not impossible.

RE: vulnerabilities
By Alexstarfire on 12/13/2008 5:24:39 PM , Rating: 1
I don't understand. First off, it's not literally auto-update, it asks first. Secondly, you act like Mozilla doesn't have documentation on what is in each update.

I don't work in business by any means, but your logic seems flawed to me.

RE: vulnerabilities
By Bryf50 on 12/13/2008 10:21:06 PM , Rating: 2
O come on. You have several hundred people in an office, even if you write it in big letters and set it as their desktop half of them are gonna end up updating it anyway.

RE: vulnerabilities
By Headfoot on 12/13/2008 1:08:54 AM , Rating: 2
-1'd for ridiculous and baseless accusations

RE: vulnerabilities
By boogle on 12/13/2008 3:58:26 PM , Rating: 2
Corporate environments can use a central update server (WSUS: to ease network congestion. Basically if every workstation downloaded the latest Firefox patch as it came out, or in the morning when they turned on the PCs; the network congestion would be massive.

I remember when the servers all had windows update enabled automatically one month without WSUS and that alone brought Internet access across the board down to a snails pace, and knocked out access to user profiles etc. That was just the servers updating with Windows updates - what if all the workstations did the same?

RE: vulnerabilities
By Culexus on 12/13/2008 4:12:15 PM , Rating: 2
Speaking of WSUS, I seem to remember the ability to delegate arbitrary software updates to some degree. If that was only signed .msi files, I don't remember. Would it be possible to have new versions of Firefox distributed with WSUS?

RE: vulnerabilities
By VaultDweller on 12/13/2008 7:07:09 PM , Rating: 2
Firefox can't update itself in any real world business scenarios, as businesses (or at least ones that have thought of security for any 5 second interval since their founding) don't give their users admin privileges.

Besides, auto updates are bad.

We have Firefox deployed to some users at work (probably less than 20), and so every time there's a Firefox patch an SMS package has to be pushed out to update those installations. It's costly overhead.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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