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Group test: which web browser is most secure?

Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and IE tested

All of the most popular browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, have different security advantages and shortcomings. We've put them through rigorous tests, to find out which is best for you.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 beta 2

Internet Explorer is the most frequently attacked browser in the world. Its popularity, complexity, and support of ActiveX controls gives it an elevated risk as compared to the rest of the competition. Still, it also has best-in-class enterprise support, superior security granularity, and multiple security zones in which to deploy websites with different trust requirements. It's the only browser with built-in parental controls and a granular add-on manager.

It is also the only browser with serious enterprise management features, providing more than 1,200 customisable settings across multiple security zones. For example, the US government requires what is called Federal Desktop Core Configuration (FDCC) on all of its software, and Federal Information Processing Standards FIPS) ciphers only. Tens of millions of PCs fall under these requirements. Only IE allows these policies to be enforced across all desktops. It is difficult to achieve with any of the other browsers.

IE 8 is bringing many new features to the table, including per-user and per-site control of ActiveX programs and other add-ons. Its improved base security model is second only to Google's Chrome, and nearly every security feature it has is mature and built for enterprise use.

Opera 9.63

Opera is a solid browser that deserves more market share in the PC world. It has impressive security granularity, good anti-DoS handling, strict Extended Validation certificate handling, and many unique features. Its lack of market share means it hasn't been as tested as Internet Explorer and Firefox, but it has been involved in fighting many found vulnerabilities.

On the downside, Opera doesn't support Data Execution Prevention (DEP), Address Space Layout Randomisation (ASLR) or Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) ciphers. These deficiencies need to be corrected before its use can be more highly recommended. Even now, I invite readers to check out Opera. I think many people will be pleasantly surprised.

Apple Safari 3.2.1

Apple's Safari browser has many good features, but lacks security granularity and zones. It has good pop-up blocking, good local password protection, and a surprisingly accurate anti-phishing filter. Unfortunately, DEP is disabled, something that needs to be corrected. Safari has the weakest cipher support, failing to offer AES ciphers, 256-bit keys or ECC ciphers.

Safari always automatically prompts the user before downloading files, and it prevents some high-risk files from being executed before downloading. Safari has good default cookie control. It is one of only two browsers in this review (the other is Chrome) to prevent all writes by third-party cookies by default, which is a nice privacy bonus.

Although local password protection is strong, Safari had the weakest remote password handling of the bunch. Safari is a great-looking browser but a mixed bag with respect to security.

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  1. We put Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and IE through their paces
  2. Making a secure browser
  3. How to measure the security of a browser
  4. Vulnerability announcements and attacks
  5. The most secure browser
  6. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox
  7. IE8, Opera and Safari
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