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.