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Security conscious meerkats watching for danger

Do the security conscious see something we don't?

It’s not a seismic shift, but a recent survey on security seems to show a trend, at least among the security conscious, away from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and paid antivirus products in favor of Chrome, Firefox and free antivirus software.

Many readers might say, “What took them so long?”

The growing number of exploits targeting IE for some years prompted recommendations to replace it with alternatives from Google or Mozilla — or to at least limit use of IE. And antivirus has become a low-priority commodity. More intelligent anti-malware tools are taking precedence over signature-based applications. Nobody wants to get rid of the signature-based tools because when they work, they work. But why pay for them? Just use a free download and save your money for more sophisticated products.

Still, I found the degree of the shift interesting.

The survey was conducted by AV Comparatives, an Austrian non-profit that does independent antivirus testing. The results come from 4,715 computer users from around the world, about 16 percent of them in North America. The respondents came primarily from Europe (about 43 percent) and Asia (about 26 percent).

AV Comparatives says that it used control questions to filter out security experts and others trying to spin the results, so that the results reflect average users. Still, if I were a betting man I’d bet that the respondents skew toward the security aware and the paranoid. Who else is likely to take the time to answer a security survey?

As you might expect, operating systems used were dominated by Microsoft, with nearly 62 percent using Windows 7 (32- or 64-bit versions) and about 17 percent using Widows 8. The company noted that Windows 8 use by respondents is significantly higher than among the general public, according to commercial metrics. Older versions of Windows, including XP (12.5 percent) and Vista (about 4 percent) still outranked Apple OSes, which totaled 2.4 percent, although Apple accounts for 7.2 percent of the North American market.

But when it comes to browsers, Microsoft lost its advantage among the survey respondents. About 39 percent said they use Mozilla Firefox and 35 percent use Google Chrome. IE was a distant third with 14.4 percent. The results reflect what had been a trend worldwide away from IE, long the dominant browser, and toward Firefox and Chrome. However, recent statistics from Net Applications  show that IE has rebounded with the release of IE 9 and 10. In February, IE held 55.8 percent of the worldwide market, followed by Firefox (20.12 percent), Chrome (16.27) and Safari (5.42).

As for security software, about 40 percent of respondents are paying for a commercial suite of security tools, and nearly 16 percent are paying for stand-alone antivirus. This combined percentage was about 10 percent higher last year, the company said. About 37 percent were using free antivirus solutions. In North America, free antivirus accounts for 40 percent.

The top choices among antimalware providers also varied with geography. In North America, the top providers in the survey were, in order, Microsoft, Symantec, Avast, Kaspersky and AVIRA. Worldwide, the top providers were Avast, Kaspersky, AVIRA, ESET and Microsoft.

Apparently users are satisfied with the security of the tools they are using. Although they ranked good malware detection rates as more important than impact on system performance, they said vendors needed to work more on reducing the impact on computer performance than on detection rates.

If the people who took this survey know what they are doing, maybe it’s time for those of us who have stuck with Microsoft IE and are paying for antivirus to reevaluate priorities.

Posted by William Jackson on Mar 28, 2013 at 9:39 AM

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Reader Comments

Sat, Mar 30, 2013 JasonC

It's also worth noting that other browsers aren't necessarily more secure. You don't hear much about security issues on MAC architecture - but this is less a result of secure architecture than its use-value to for-profit or otherwise organized cyber crime. Most assets are still on IE. I use Chrome because IE is incredibly bloated and slow - just like it and Windows media player have always been.

Fri, Mar 29, 2013 Martin

Microsoft screwed themselves when they refused to let IE9 run under Windows XP. There is no real reason that it can't, other than they want people, especially corporate and feds, to get off of XP and to buy into Windows 7 and 8. So what happened at my agency. We dumped IE and now everyone uses Firefox. Microsoft may have lost the advantage in the browser market, but they only have themselves to blame.

Fri, Mar 29, 2013 John

I don't use IE because Chrome is more user friendly. It's not about security. I would imagine ease of use is the number one driver of the switch from IE to competitors, not security.

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