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Print 95 comment(s) - last by Tomcatter.. on Dec 9 at 11:55 PM

A recent Microsoft took a rather insulting stab at Mozilla, so the open-source firm decide to do some trash talking of its own.

Mozilla is all hustle and bustle these days, trying to fix the remaining bugs before it rolls out its final release of the third iteration of its popular Firefox browser.

Perhaps catching wind of the press on these bugs, Microsoft released a security report on November 30, titled "Internet Explorer and Firefox Vulnerability Analysis".  The report, which examined the quantity and threat level of vulnerabilities within the two browsers, came out very strongly skewed in Microsoft's favor.  It reported that Internet Explorer experienced fewer threats across all security levels (low, medium, and high) than Firefox.  It also reported that Mozilla had to fix 199 security vulnerabilities, while in the same period of time Microsoft only had to fix 87.

Microsoft products are not always known as secure platforms, largely because they are the market leader and the biggest target for malicious attacks.  Not so, the report indicates, when it comes to Internet Explorer.

The report was produced by Microsoft's Jeff Jones, a security strategy director in Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group and is available, here.

Mozilla's Mike Shaver had some choice words in response to the report.

"Just because dentists fix more teeth in America doesn't mean our teeth are worse than in Africa," he said, said left handedly comparing Internet Explorer to a festering tooth.

He continued, "It's something you'd expect from maybe an undergrad.  It's very disappointing to see somebody in a senior security position come out and say that because an organization is more transparent about their bugs and fixing them, they're somehow less secure."

Shaver says the analysis is lazy and possibly "malicious."

He does raise a valid point that Microsoft often lump several security issues together into a single "threat" that gets fixed irregularly with the arrival of the service pack.  Shaver points out that Mozilla has constantly been working to roll out fixes far more quickly than Microsoft's.  Shaver explains:
"If Mozilla wanted to do better than Microsoft on this report, we would have an easy path: stop fixing and disclosing bugs that we find in-house. It is well known that Microsoft redacts release notes for service packs and bundles fixes, sometimes meaning that you get a single vulnerability 'counted' for, say, seven defects repaired. Or maybe you don't hear about it at all, because it was rolled into SP2 and they didn't make any noise about it."

Shaver says in his blog, that we would have to be in a "parallel universe" for Microsoft to even "approach Mozilla's standard of transparency.”

In an interview with eWeek, he continued to vent, saying, "The vast majority [of the Firefox user base] is updated to the most secure version of Firefox in less than a week;  those are the things we measure and talk about publicly. Reports like [Jones'] really point the industry in a dangerous direction, which is to say you're [given an incentive] to keep [browser security fixes] quiet. That doesn't keep you safer, it just helps companies hide the real nature of what they're doing."

Earlier last month Jones had published a report on how Windows Vista was far less vulnerable than Leopard OS X or most Linux OS distributions.

Many will be sick of Microsoft and Mozilla's bickering, but when they attack each other so publicly, it’s simply hard to ignore.  This is unfortunate as it simply leaves the user feeling less secure and unsure of who to trust.



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RE: Sometimes I wish
By tjwolf on 12/3/2007 8:41:14 PM , Rating: 3
One could argue that yours is the naive view. Obviously security is partially a function of complexity: the more complex the application, the more likely it is to have bugs that can be exploited to circumvent security. But it is also one of design - which you entirely ignore: if one creates an application that only has one door through which exploits can be made, it is obviously more secure than an application which has a 100 doors. Firefox doesn't have 1 door, but it has a heck of alot less doors through which exploits can be made than IE with its tight integration with the operating system (via its inane ActiveX and other insecure extensions).

Secondly, you say that security is a function of the number of engineers working on the product to find these problems and assert that Microsoft has more resources to do so. Sure Mozilla is a small organization, but with back from Google, its financial resources aren't negligible. And since the browser is open source, absolutely anyone can not only help find bugs, they can help fix them! That includes engineers from many of the world's largest companies (including engineers from the aforementioned Google). So, it's pretty obvious to anyone that doesn't cling to the naive notion that it's Mozilla against Microsoft that Firefox development actually has more resources at its disposal than Microsoft.


RE: Sometimes I wish
By TomZ on 12/3/07, Rating: -1
RE: Sometimes I wish
By Zurtex on 12/3/2007 11:44:53 PM , Rating: 5
Mozilla hires about 100 full time staff...

And as for what you say about the rest of people who look over the code, visit bugzilla some time, seriously, it's an amazing place. With the build up to Firefox 3, I've been there a lot, tracking how my bugs have been doing and seeing if there's any others I'd like to have fixed.


RE: Sometimes I wish
By tjwolf on 12/4/2007 11:07:13 AM , Rating: 2
You seem to have heard of the feature called ActiveX (remember - you called it 'powerful' and 'elegant'?) That is a very complex feature - and it doesn't exist in Firefox. Therefore, IE is quite a bit more complex than Firefox. And for no good reason since, as I said, ActiveX shouldn't exist in a Web browser.

Your assertion that most people don't contribute to fixing bugs is based on no knowledge - have you ever gone to the bugzilla web site? Check out how many people file bugs, fix bugs, etc.


RE: Sometimes I wish
By TomZ on 12/4/2007 12:40:30 PM , Rating: 1
ActiveX is actually so simple it's stupid. It is easy to write an app that hosts an ActiveX control. I can't imagine that part adds much complexity to IE.


RE: Sometimes I wish
By tjwolf on 12/5/2007 8:25:17 PM , Rating: 2
You mistake the ease of programming with lack of complexity. ActiveX is a layer which allows access to the entire underlying OS. Therefore, IE with ActiveX carries with it the complexity of the entire Windows OS. That is why it's such a bad design! Any security vulnerability in the OS could, theoretically, be exploited by an attacker through ActiveX.

With regards to ActiveX's ease of use - it's MS' intent: to let every Joe Average program the Web by leveraging the entire OS' capability. Hordes of MS VB script kiddies became instant Web developers (at least Web developers in MS' mind).

...never mind any security concerns or adherence to standards or letting non MS IE users look at your info...


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