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Surfers are being offered a check on the security of their browser with a free security tool.

The Browser Security Test, from Belgian security outfit ScanIT, tests for system vulnerability against a range of 22 simulated attacks.

Browser insecurity is, of course, a significant source of Net security problems.

ScanIT says its test scores by automating the identification and patching process, saving users valuable time. When the test is finished users' get a report explaining the discovered vulnerabilities, their impact and how to eliminate them.

Statistics gathered by ScanIT showed 42 per cent of users who checked their online security were at 'high risk' of an attack. Twenty-one per cent were at 'medium risk' - three quarters of the surfers surveyed were using Microsoft's Internet Explorer. ScanIT's 'Browser Security Test' identifies many of the 100 or so recognised security flaws in the most widely used Internet browsers, the company says.

Your mileage may vary

We tried ScanIT's test for ourselves against a range of browsers.

Mozilla on Linux ran through with a clean bill of health.

So far so good.

By contrast IE6.0 on Win98, without the latest cumulative patch, failed rather miserably with two high-risk vulnerabilities and three medium-risk vulnerabilities. That was to be expected, since we were running an unpatched vanilla version of IE6.0.

However IE6.0 SP1 on Win98, with all the patches Windows Update recommends installed, is still left with two medium risk vulnerabilities, according to the test.

These flaws, since you ask, are a Cross Site Scripting problem and same origin policy bypass vulnerability, which might (in theory permit crackers to read Web email). The workaround for both these flaws is to disable JavaScript.

Netscape 6.2.3, again on Win98, reports one medium risk (cookie stealing) vulnerability. ScanIT's test advises an upgrade to Netscape 7 or Mozilla 1.1.

Opera 5.1.2 on Win 98 crashed during the test. ScanIT warns at the beginning that this was likely to happen but we tried it anyway, just to be bloody minded.

Testing using Opera 7.0.2 turns up one medium risk vulnerability, but that links to a zone bypass vulnerability with IE. Surely some mistake by ScanIT here? (What was Opera pretending to be here? - Ed)

Overall we give ScanIT's one thumb up for the technology and a ringing endorsement for its polar bear logo.

ScanIT's test does help to create awareness among users about security issues but work needs to be done in pointing people to the right patches, rather than articles about problems. Also code for testing the latest version of Opera needs fixing, it seems.

The tests themselves take around five minutes. One major drawback is that users have to go through pop-up hell as the tests are running and it practically imposed to do anything else during their duration. Once ScanIT's tests are finished users are left with the tedious task of closing down the numerous browser Windows and download dialogue boxes that are opened up.

In summary: not a bad effort but more development needed, particularly on making the tests a little more user friendly. ®

External Links

ScanIT's Browser Security Test

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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