Firefox had more vulnerabilities than Internet Explorer last year, but zero-day threats to the Mozilla browser were fixed more quickly than those affecting IE.
An annual scorecard report from security notification firm Secunia found that Firefox was hit by 115 security flaws in 2008, more than the combined number of its three main competitors: Internet Explorer (31), Opera (30), and Safari (32).
But Mozilla was far more adept at dealing with the appearance of zero-day vulnerabilities than Microsoft, according to Secunia. It reports that Mozilla took an average of 43 days to deal with three such incidents last year, not all of which covered critical flaws.
Meanwhile, Microsoft took an average of 100 days to deal with three zero-day flaws, the worst of which Secunia describes as "high risk." Three other less serious IE flaws that emerged last year remain unpatched.
In 2008, the security notification firm handed out its highest "extremely critical" with 11 advisories - a sharp increase from just two in 2007. On a more positive note, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities across all software packages decreased from 20 in 2007 to 12 in 2008.
Secunia's report includes stats from its patching assessment tool, Secunia PSI, which is free for consumers. These show Firefox 2.0 is unpatched one in three time (34 per cent). That's poor, but figures for Macromedia Flash Player 6.x (unpatched 83 per cent of the time) and Sun Java JRE 1.5.x/5.x (96 per cent) are far worse.
"Too many users give up patching software when it is not straightforward," Secunia reports. "Many choose to handle the applications that are easy-to-patch, whereas the applications that take longer or are difficult to patch are simply ignored."
Secunia also looked at the number of security bugs last year affecting browser plugs. Duff ActiveX controls accounted for 366 flaws last year, far dwarfing bugs particular to Java (54), Flash (19), and QuickTime plugins (30).
Secunia's complete 17-page report, which is liberally sprinkled with graphs, can be found here (pdf). ®