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5/6/2009
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Google Chrome Update Scheme Beats Firefox, Safari, Opera

By automatically updating the browser every five hours, Google Chrome provides greater security than its competitors, according to a new study.

Google Chrome's automatic, silent update mechanism provides greater security than the update methods used by competing browsers, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by Thomas Duebendorfer of Google Switzerland and Stefan Frei of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), which immediately raises the issue of bias.

However, Google isn't the first technology company to promote its products with statistics, so the involvement of a Google engineer in a study that finds virtue in a Google product shouldn't immediately invalidate the study's findings.

The study examines the update strategies used by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Opera to keep their browsers patched. Browser updates, of course, figure significantly in browser security. While not every risk is mitigated by browser patches, software vulnerabilities in Web browsers can be significantly reduced by using the most current stable version of a given browser.

With so much malware targeting the browser and Web applications these days, using the most current Web browser has become more important than ever. Yet according to Google, in mid-2008, 45.2% of Internet users visiting Google weren't using the most up-to-date version of their browser.

In the research paper, Duebendorfer and Frei delve into the update mechanisms used by the various browser makers:

  • Google Chrome updates automatically, without asking the user, every five hours.

  • Mozilla Firefox provides several options: once per session, each time it's used, never, and when appropriate/automatically, though it still prompts the user to accept the update.

  • Apple Safari, using Apple's Software Update system, checks for updates daily, weekly, monthly, or not at all, as determined by the user. Apple also has the ability to deliver "important" updates automatically.

  • Opera checks for updates every week and notifies the user when a new update is available. Version 10, however, currently being tested, includes automatic updating.

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer gets updates through the Automatic Updates system in Windows. It includes several updating options: (1) automatic download and install, (2) automatic download, followed by a user prompt to install, (3) automatic notification about updates without downloading and installing them, and (4) disabling automatic. In corporate settings, IT administrators determine these policies.

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