Yesterday and today we've got a blizzard of web browser security updates:
- Opera releases version 9.63, fixing 3 remote execution bugs and other security issues.
- Mozilla releases Firefox 3.0.5, fixing 3 remote execution bugs and other security issues.
- Microsoft is about to release an out of band patch for its IE data-binding remote execution vulnerability which escaped the patch pack issued on Tue, Dec 9th.
Microsoft zealots are taking this as an argument to argue that all browsers are equally insecure, and therefore there's no reason to switch (from IE) for security purposes (an advice which, on the other hand, starts spreading even on mainstream media).
This is quite a debatable statement, if you think about it.
IE's vulnerability, being a zero day, is actively exploited in the wild by thousands of compromised web sites and puts several millions of users worldwide at risk, while both Firefox's and Opera's are still embargoed.
Firefox will be automatically updated for its users before bad guys can analyze and exploit the patched vulnerabilities. That's effective patching. Opera is in a slightly worse shape, since its update mechanism is not fully automated (it requires user to manually download and install the new version). Microsoft already failed this time, because the vulnerability has been already known and exploited for more than one week.
Right, zero day situations can happen to any software product, and Opera and Firefox might face a similar shitstorm tomorrow. But, even so, there are some interesting differences:
- Patching policies: Microsoft implements a predictable monthly patching cycle. This is probably good for corporate IT departments, which can carefully plan the so called "black Tuesday" to minimize their troubles, but it's also good for evildoers and security attention-bitches, who can carefully plan their exploits or disclosures to maximize their impact. Zero day critical vulnerabilities in three different Microsoft products have been disclosed immediately after last "black Tuesday": is this really a coincidence?
Firefox and Opera, on the other hand, issue security updates whenever they're ready and tested.
- Agility: as everybody knows, Internet Explorer is tightly coupled with the underlying Windows OS platform, and this makes both mitigation and fixing more difficult. In this case, for instance, the suggested work-around required not just hardening the browser itself by blocking scripts and plugins, but also disabling a system-wide data access component (OLEDB): this affected not just surfing the web, with many sites inaccessible or malfunctioning, but also most Windows applications relying upon databases.
To summarize: all the browsers can have vulnerabilities and equally need timely patching, but not all the users are equally vulnerable.