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In-depth

In web browsers we should not trust

Davey Winder explains why end users should be wary of putting too much trust in their chosen web browser

A mouse cursor hovering over a web page url bar

Security vendor Sophos published details of a 'trustworthy browser poll' last week, with a headline proclaiming Firefox "slams Chrome again" in the results.

Indeed it did, with 48 per cent of the 3,400 participants trusting it most. This compared with 27 per cent for Chrome, eight per cent for Safari, 7.4 per cent for Internet Explorer and just five per cent for Opera.

The remaining 4.6 per cent trusted browser clients such as Tor, Comodo Ice, Chromium and even Lynx, for those of you with a really long memory that stretches back as far as the text-only world wide web.

This last percentage group of stragglers also included the client we should all trust the most: none.

My advice would be the level of trust we place in any given browser client is irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst. To trust a web browser client is, frankly, security suicide.

What the poll was really harvesting is data on the browser client the participants mistrusted the least. It's a subtle difference, you may think, but it's an important one. No web browser client can be trusted, and all should be viewed with more than just a degree of caution.

Interestingly, the Facebook group where the poll appeared seems to share this view, if the comments there (and the accompanying post on the Sophos blog) are anything to go by.

User mistrust was refreshingly high, with some informed folk insisting they regularly use VMs for security when browsing. Others, however, admitted they didn't trust their browser yet seemed resigned to sacrificing their concerns at the alter of usability.

Within the enterprise, admin will know all too well about the best methods of using a browser within a security-centric ecosystem to minimise the risk of compromise.

What interests me most about this poll is that Sophos is primarily known as a vendor of security protection to the business sector, so the users who responded are (one imagines) business users.

The talk of trust is one that scares me, and the security to convenience ratio should scare you as well. If, like so many organisations today, your employees work at home or outside of the office, you need to be asking the question: do you trust them to be doubtful about the clients they use to access corporate data?

I think you know what the answer is, and that should prompt you to be ensuring that your BYOD and remote working security policy and risk mitigation infrastructure are up to scratch. Trust me on this one...

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