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Web Browsers Beat Endpoint Products in Blocking Phishing Attacks: Report

When it comes to phishing attacks, it appears Web browsers are doing a better job detecting and blocking them than end point security suites, according to a new report.

Only two vendors blocked more than 80 percent of phishing attacks in a timely manner, according to the latest "2013 Group Test for Consumer End Point Protection" report from testing lab NSS Labs released Wednesday. NSS Labs researchers tested 13 major endpoint products with 5,732 phishing URLs over a ten-day period to evaluate the products' ability to detect and block phishing URLs. The results suggest many users running these products may have a "false sense of security," NSS Labs said.

Phishing AttacksNSS Labs tested products from Avast, AVG, Avira, CA, ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky, McAfee, Microsoft, Norman, Norton, Panda, and Trend Micro. Norman blocked only 3 percent of the bad URLs over the entire 10-day test, while Trend Micro blocked 92 percent, according to the report. Kaspersky had the second highest score, with 85 percent. Since Kaspersky and Trend Micro account for less than 10 percent of the global security software market according to the September 2012 OPSWAT report, NSS Labs researchers concluded in the report that approximately 90 percent of the market was "severely under-protected."

"The generally low protection against phishing offered by antivirus suites would be cause for serious concern if the leading browsers weren't doing as well as they are at blocking such attacks," said Randy Abrams, research director at NSS Labs.

In fact, recent NSS Labs tests have found that modern Web browsers block 90 percent to 94 percent of phishing attacks. The rate of blocking for the security products "was generally not up to the level of protection offered by modern Web browsers and often was significantly poorer than the block rates of Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari," the researchers wrote.

Phishing attacks generally have a very short lifespan, approximately 23 hours, according to NSS Labs. The scammers first create a clone page that masquerades as another legitimate page, such as a banking site, PayPal, email service, or even Facebook, and then use various tricks to drive users to that fake site. The victims may be lured to the phishing site via spam email, Facebook posts, shortened URLs on Twitter, or even just taking advantage of users typing the site's name incorrectly. The new phishing URL generally gets blacklisted within hours, but the scammers trap plenty of victims within that timeframe.

Each security product in the report was tested every six hours to see how long it took to detect the phishing attempt. Researchers found that the security products too much longer than the Web browsers to receive updated blacklists and block the malicious URLs. Kaspersky and Trend Micro took between four to four-and-a-half hours to block phishing URLs, compared to Firefox, which took a mere 2.35 hours. Safari took 5.38 hours, according to the report.

The mean time to block a site (if it is blocked at all) is 10 hours for security products, compared to 4.87 hours for Web browsers, NSS Labs said. Trend Micro and Kaspersky were faster than Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer at detecting bad URLs, but neither of them could match Chrome's block rates, the report said.

"Leading browsers are now full-fledged partners with antivirus in the fight against phishing and are generally doing a better job of protecting against phishing attacks than end point security suites," said Abrams.

End-users should use current web browsers as a first line of protection against phishing attacks and not worry about phishing capabilities when buying security products, NSS Labs recommended, They should also take the time to understand phishing attacks and modifying their behavior to avoid becoming a victim.

"Users who educate themselves about phishing attacks generally require little or no technology to protect against standard phishing attacks," the report said.

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Fahmida Y. Rashid is a Senior Contributing Writer for SecurityWeek. She has experience writing and reviewing security, core Internet infrastructure, open source, networking, and storage. Before setting out her journalism shingle, she spent nine years as a help-desk technician, software and Web application developer, network administrator, and technology consultant.