Google Chrome trumps browser pack in update test

Users of Google's Chrome browser are the most likely to be running the latest version of the software compared to other browsers, according to a study released this week.

The study, entitled Why Silent Updates Boost Security, found that the less obtrusive the update mechanism, the more likely it was that users would install the latest version of the browser. Chrome, which automatically downloads updates in the background by default and installs them automatically the next time the browser is updated, was the most updated browser, with 97% of users having installed a new interim version within 21 days of release.

Opera, which according to the report essentially requires a complete browser reinstall for a minor update, was the least updated browser tested. Only a quarter of users had adopted the latest version within 21 days of release. However, version 10, now in alpha testing, will update itself automatically, which is likely to change the results.

Firefox and Safari fell in the middle, with 85% and 53% of users respectively having installed the newest update within three weeks. Firefox features an automatic update facility that downloads new versions in the background and lets users install the update with a single mouse click. Safari suffered from restrictions which required certain versions of the operating system to install the latest updates to the browser, the authors pointed out.

"All in all, the poor update effectiveness of Apple Safari and Opera gives attackers plenty of time to use known exploits to attack users of outdated browsers," said the report.

Significantly, the report omitted Internet Explorer from the tests. This is because Microsoft's browser does not communicate minor version information when sending information to servers. Microsoft fails to do so because it wants to minimise the chance of drive-by downloads from ascertaining the specific browser version. However, based on the fact that the browser update mechanism is included in the operating system, the researchers expect it to sit somewhere between Safari and Firefox in the results.

The report was admittedly carried out by Google Switzerland, but the firm co-authored it with a representative from the Computer Engineering and Networks Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology


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