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Is Your Out of Date Browser a Recipe for Disaster? - Web Security

Posted by Ronan Kavanagh on Tue, Nov 13th, 2012

Web browsers act as the gateway to the online world, allowing access to everything the World Wide Web has to offer, from social networking to ecommerce and provide entry to the vast and ever expanding online communities.  Although at the same time the majority of online threats come from the web as well.  Vulnerabilities in web browsers and other popular programs are exploited by cybercriminals to infect systems and steal user data.  That is why keeping your chosen browser up-to-date is one of the most important tasks, since new versions plug security holes and provide new dynamic security features.

Dangers of Unsecure Browsers

Surfing the Web with a vulnerable browser is a recipe for disaster.  Today, web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari (to name a few), are favoured by many and are installed on almost all computers.  Because web browsers are used so frequently, it is vital to configure them securely.  Often, the web browser that comes with an operating system is not set up in a secure default configuration.  Not securing your web browser can lead quickly to a variety of computer problems caused by anything from spyware being installed without your knowledge to intruders taking control of your computer, like the recent spate of ransomware (a form of malware that restricts access to the computer system that it infects, and demands a ransom paid to the creator of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed) that has been spreading across the virtual world.

According to the results of a new survey from security software vendor Kaspersky, nearly a quarter of the browsers currently in use are out of date.   The report analyzes browser usage trends from among 10 million randomly selected Kaspersky Lab customers from different regions across the world. It is based on data from the cloud-based Kaspersky Security Network collected in August 2012. During this period Kaspersky Security Network recorded over 700 million browser launch events.  Five web browser types were analyzed, with a total 36 major versions of them being used at the time.

Analysis & Main Findings

A leader of the past, Internet Explorer is losing market share to Google Chrome, as is the open-source Firefox browser.

Slightly less than 80% of Kaspersky Lab’s users have the latest version of a browser.  At the same time, the number of users utilizing older or critically outdated browsers is very high.  A 23% share for older browsers and 8.5% for obsolete versions represents millions of users.  Such reluctance to upgrade is a key addition to the negative outlook on web-born threats.  

Despite all web browsers having simple and straightforward update functionality a significant share of users chooses older, potentially vulnerable versions.  What is even worse, failing to upgrade most likely affects other programs as well – including the direct gateways for infection like Adobe Flash or Java. 

Importance of Securing your Web Browser

While refraining or forgetting to update your web browser may be your first mistake, coupled with any of the following factors will exacerbate the likelihood of you falling victim to any of the lurking cybercriminals and their scams and viruses.

  • Clicking on links or pop-ups without any consideration regarding the consequences
  • Configuring your web browser to provide increased functionality, often with decreased security implications
  • Many websites require users to enable certain features or install other software, leading to additional for the computer and user
  • Many users don’t know how to configure their web browsers effectively and may be unsure what the optimal settings for that browser may be

 Keeping your Computer and Browser Secure

While there are some valid reasons for holding off on upgrading to a new browser version, some users might feel like new versions just add arbitrary features, bells and whistles they simply don't care about, so they choose to stick with the browser they're already comfortable and familiar with.  Some users have been burned in the past by updating to a new version and finding out the hard way that some sites or plug-ins no longer work as expected, if at all.  This may be the source of any reluctance for some users to refrain from updating.

Some of our tips and advice for staying secure online:

  • Enable automatic software updates - The majority of vendors release patches on a frequent required basis, when vulnerability has been discovered or existing features being upgraded
  • Install and utilise antivirus software - While an up-to-date and comprehensive antivirus software package cannot protect against all malicious code, for most internet users it remains to be the first port of call and first line of defence against any potential cyber attacks
  • Avoid unsafe behaviour – For instance use caution when opening email attachments, using chat rooms, peer to peer file sharing and instant messaging

 As discussed in a previous blog entry, as it is approaching the holiday season, with many eager shoppers researching, browsing and reserving online, you can be assured that the cybercriminals have marked their calendars, are checking their lists twice and preparing to deliver lumps of cyber coal in the form of festive scams and spams.  Be sure to keep your browser and web security up to date over the festive season so you don’t give the cybercriminals a Merry Christmas.

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