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4 in 5 surfers open to browser exploits from fixed flaws

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Eight in 10 browsers remains vulnerable to attacks targeting already patched bugs, with the majority of problems stemming from plug-ins such as Java.

The figures come from real world scans by users of Qualys's BrowserCheck service, a free of charge consumer-focused scanning utility released last year. The web-based service scans Windows, Mac and Linux machines for security problems either in the browser itself or in 18 commonly used plug-ins, such as Adobe Flash and Windows Media Player. Browsers supported include IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera (ie all the big five).

In January 2011, 80 per cent of all machines were vulnerable to at least one browser-based security bug. This figure has varied between 65 per cent and 90 per cent since July 2010, according to a presentation by Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, at the RSA Conference on Thursday. Kandek expressed surprise at the high figure of vulnerable systems.

The figures are especially troubling when you consider that consumers who have chosen to scan their system with BrowserCheck in the first place are likely to be more security-aware than the majority of internet users.

The most commonly unlatched plug-in turned out to be Oracle Java (vulnerable in more than 40 per cent of cases), software that coincidentally received a monster patch batch on Thursday. The security shortcomings of Java on browsers has prompted some security experts to begin advising surfers to disable the technology.

Adobe Reader (32 per cent), QuickTime (25 per cent), Flash (24 per cent), Shockwave (22 per cent), and WMP (10 per cent) plug-ins were also frequently left vulnerable to attack.

Kandek concludes that Browser Security is in a "shaky state", especially because of frequently outdated and easily attackable plug-ins. He said that virus writers have adapted to this trend by launching more attacks against browser plug-ins, but home users and enterprises are yet to respond by more diligently patching systems.

Kandek's presentation, complete with multiple pie-charts and graphs illustrating the dodgy state of browser security, can be downloaded from the Qualys website here. ®

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