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Mozilla praised for pulling flawed Firefox 16

Oct 12, 20123 mins
Application SecurityCybercrimeFirefox

Move shows commitment to privacy, but experts say Google's Chrome and Microsoft's Internet Explorer are more secure

Security experts on Thursday applauded  Mozilla’s decision to abort the distribution of a flawed Firefox 16, while also opining that the browser is generally more vulnerable to cyberattacks than rivals Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Mozilla pulled the latest version of Firefox on Wednesday from the company’s installer page after discovering a bug that enabled a malicious web site to download a visitor’s browsing history. Mozilla was not aware of the flaw being exploited on the Web.

The organization fixed the vulnerability and re-launched the browser on Thursday. People who had the flawed version would get an update automatically the same day.

The vulnerability presented a privacy problem — not a security risk — such as the threat of having user names and passwords stolen, experts said. Nevertheless, Mozilla was viewed as making the right decision in aborting the distribution until after the browser was fixed.

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“It shows their commitment to privacy,” said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at Qualys.

It is not clear when Mozilla first found out about the problem. Firefox 16 was available for less than a day before it was pulled from the site. Notes from a Wednesday meeting showed the developers knew about the flaw that day.

In a report released last December, Accuvant found Google Chrome to be the most secure browser, followed by Microsoft IE and Firefox, respectively. Chrome was better in plug-in security and had superior sandboxing architecture. In addition, unlike its rivals, Firefox did not have JIT hardening, a technique used to defend against attackers trying to execute malicious JavaScript inside the browser.

“Simply put, IE and Chrome certainly seem to be a safer alternative today and for that matter for some time now,” Paul Henry, a computer forensics expert and vice president of VNet Security, said in an email. Henry primarily uses Chrome.

Kandek, who also uses Chrome, agreed that Google’s browser architecture was best for security, with many companies preferring IE because updates can be managed more easily through Windows.

Firefox’s biggest advantage was the many third-party features available to consumers through plug-ins, Kandek said. However, the high-level of customization also made the browser less secure, since it’s left up to plug-in makers to regularly patch the applications and consumers to install the fixes

“With that flexibility comes bigger exposure,” Kandek said.

Mozilla has had other snafus with Firefox security. In June, a major flaw was found in the new tab feature in version 13 that displayed thumbnails of previously visited web sites. The thumbnails were found to contain users’ personal information, such as bank account numbers.