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Security Bugs Undercut Mozilla

New flaws leave experts wondering if Mozilla's such a great alternative to Microsoft Internet Explorer and Exchange

Mozilla put patches on a wide range of security vulnerabilities last week, but experts say the black eye won't help the open-source group in its effort to displace Microsoft's browsers and email clients in enterprise environments.

A report issued on Friday listed no fewer than 33 vulnerabilities in the Mozilla suite of software, which includes the popular Firefox browser as well as the Thunderbird open-source email client. The vulnerabilities were patched in a new release of the Mozilla suite released early last week, but security experts said the new spate of flaws will be hard for enterprises to overlook.

"Some of these vulnerabilities are deadly," says Sheeraj Shah, director and co-founder of security consultancy Net Square Solutions, and author of the book, Web Hacking: Attacks and Defense. "They empower the attacker to load scripts remotely while browsing. One could create different scenarios in which these vulnerabilities could be exploited and lead to information disclosure or remote command or script execution."

Over the past two years, Mozilla has gained market traction as a free, open-source alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which has been rife with security bugs, and its Exchange email client. But between the publication of Mozilla's vulnerabilities and the second beta release of Microsoft's Firefox-like IE7 last week, the open-source software's momentum may be on the wane.

In some ways, Mozilla's software is a victim of its own success, according to Michal Zalewski, a well-known white-hat hacker and author of the book, Silence on the Wire: A Field Guide to Passive Reconnaissances and Indirect Attacks. "The recent increase in market share of Firefox has already resulted in extra scrutiny, and revealed many flaws that seem strangely reminiscent of what was discovered earlier in IE and other commercial software," he observes.

But Zalewski feels that there still are good reasons why Mozilla users don't need to be as worried as IE users. For one thing, he says, Mozilla's open-source development community is quicker to respond to security problems than Microsoft seems to be, leaving a narrower window for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities.

Mozilla still makes up only a small portion of the total browser market, its users tend to be more tech-savvy than IE users, and they do their updates more punctually, Zaleski notes. These factors continue to make the open-source environment a less attractive target for attackers, he says.

But no matter which browser your enterprise uses, the risk of vulnerabilities and subsequent attacks remains high, warns Shah. "Aside from doing your browser updates, enterprises should consider content filtering at the HTTP/HTTPS proxy, which can help them identify browser-based attacks and mitigate them at the gates -- before they hit the end user," he says.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • Mozilla
  • Net-Square Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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