13 February 2009

Firefox (In)Security Update Dynamics Exposed

One of the great things about Firefox is its automatic update scheme. Here's some interesting research on the subject:

Although there is an increasing trend for attacks against popular Web browsers, only little is known about the actual patch level of daily used Web browsers on a global scale. We conjecture that users in large part do not actually patch their Web browsers based on recommendations, perceived threats, or any security warnings. Based on HTTP useragent header information stored in anonymized logs from Google's web servers, we measured the patch dynamics of about 75% of the world's Internet users for over a year. Our focus was on the Web browsers Firefox and Opera. We found that the patch level achieved is mainly determined by the ergonomics and default settings of built-in auto-update mechanisms. Firefox' auto-update is very effective: most users installed a new version within three days. However, the maximum share of the latest, most secure version never exceeded 80% for Firefox users and 46% for Opera users at any day in 2007. This makes about 50 million Firefox users with outdated browsers an easy target for attacks. Our study is the result of the first global scale measurement of the patch dynamics of a popular browser.

What's interesting, too, is that this was research done using data drawn from Google: there must be a lot of really useful info there to be mined - suitably anonymised, of course. (Via Bruce Schneier.)

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