More evidence Microsoft is locking down Windows -- Internet Explorer leads the pack in protection against drive-by-downloads

Once upon a time, Microsoft software was seen as riddled with security holes, an open invitation to malware. Here's yet one more piece of evidence that has changed and Microsoft is locking down Windows: Internet Explorer is by far the most secure browser when it comes to drive-by-downloads, with a remarkable 99% effective rate, compared to the second most secure, Chrome at 13%.

Those results comes from security research firm NSS labs. NSS Labs tested Internet Explorer 9, Opera 11, Safari 5, Firefox 4, and Chrome 12 and the findings were clear and dramatic: No browser comes close to Internet Explorer for protection against what the firm calls "socially engineered malware" -- essentialy drive-by-downloads. (For full results, download this PDF.)

Internet Explorer 9 uses multiple technologies to protect against these threats, and NSS Labs found them to be remarkably effective in combination. Here's what the report found:

Windows Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) caught an exceptional 99.2% of live threats: 96% with the SmartScreen URL reputation and an additional 3.2% with Application Reputation. URL Reputation, which is included in IE8, and Application Reputation, which is new to IE9, are the two components that make up IE9’s SmartScreen Filter. IE9 with SmartScreen offers the best protection of any browser against socially engineered malware.

Chrome protected against 13.2% of threats, Safari 7.6%, Firefox 7.6%, and Opera 6.1%.

This study follows security firm Kaspersky Lab's recent quarterly malware report, which found that for the first time ever, not a single Microsoft-related threat was in the top ten threats. Kasperky concluded:

Microsoft products have disappeared from this ranking due to improvements in the automatic Windows update mechanism and the growing proportion of users who have Windows 7 installed on their PCs.

The upshot here is that the world has changed -- Microsoft software, including Windows, is far safer than it has been in the past. The criticism that it's riddled with security holes is no longer true.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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