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Experts are taking issue to a recent study which warned users of potential risk of using Firefox

A recent security study from Bit9 argued that Mozilla's Firefox was the most vulnerable application and thus a major threat to businesses.  One of the chief reasons it gave was the lack of a large-network patching system.  For this reason, despite recent security flaws, it did not consider Microsoft's Internet Explorer software, as it assumed that such a patching system dramatically lowered vulnerability.

Bit9 went as far as to suggest that enterprises block their employees from having access to Firefox and delete it from work computers.

Some firms, including Mozilla, were quick to take issue with Bit9's alarming comments.  Representatives from Mozilla's security branch, Human Shield contacted DailyTech with remarks on the topic.  The company's Johnathan Nightingale states, "While we're always happy to see stories that focus on educating our users about security, there are some problems with Bit9's methodology that hinder its ability to draw any meaningful conclusions."

According to Mr. Nightingale, by raising the "risk" of companies which disclose critical vulnerabilities, Bit9's study punishes openness, a critical key to security.  It rewards companies that keep their vulnerabilities secret, he argues.

He also criticizes Bit9's stance on patching, stating that the firm's claims fall short of reality.  He states, "Bit9 seems to understand (the need for smarter metrics) in its focus on application support for updates, but again it fails to account for the real world experience. Firefox does not deliver WSUS updates, but our built-in update mechanism requires no user intervention, and we consistently see 90% adoption within six days of a new update being released."

He concludes, "The Firefox vulnerabilities Bit9 discusses are long-since fixed, with the majority of these fixes coming within days of it being announced. That is the real measure of application security: are known vulnerabilities fixed promptly, tested carefully, and deployed thoroughly? Bug counting is unfortunately common because it's easy, but it should not be a substitute for real security measurement."

Similar sentiments were also echoed by various readers on DailyTech as well as several sources in the security business.  While the Bit9 study certainly takes a controversial and interesting position, according to many its claims are overly broad and flawed.  Whether this is the case is largely a matter of opinion, but one thing's for sure -- whether you're on Firefox, Opera, Chrome, or Internet Explorer, security is largely in the hands of the user.


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By Kornfeld on 12/18/2008 10:13:19 AM , Rating: 5
Based on what I'm reading the Firefox's built-in update mechanism requires the browser to be running in administrator context.

This whole discussion appeared to aimed at enterprise use and management of browsers. Even Mozilla's response seemed to be geared towards this based on their reference to WSUS.

So... how does it make any sense for a representative of Mozilla to argue that their patching is superior when it relies on the browser running in admin context? That's simply assinine.

I thought the original article they were replying to was pretty weak, but that kind of response is even more pathetic to me.

Regarding your comments. I suspect you have no experience with enterprise desktop maintenance. The patches under security bulletin MS08-078 could easily be deployed to systems within hours using Microsoft's tools like WSUS. You provide no information at all to support your assertion that these deployment tools actually slow down deployments of these patches. In a large enterprise, the limiting factor is typically not the pace at which this can be deployed, but the change controll processes, communications, agreed testing window for internal applications, etc.


By bodar on 12/18/2008 6:12:32 PM , Rating: 2
It should only require Admin if it was installed someplace the user does not have rights to, like say Program Files. We've had users who install FF themselves despite being 'limited' users, simply by changing the install point to their My Docs folder (XP SP2). I'm not certain, but I assume this would mean that updates function this way as well?


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