Is Microsoft Edge really necessary

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Microsoft is pushing ahead with its Windows 10-exclusive Edge browser. Ads built into Windows 10 now claim that Edge is "more secure" than Chrome and Firefox. How did Microsoft discover this, and is it really true?

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Microsoft's claim is based on a report from NSS Labs, a company that sells threat education and risk mitigation advice to businesses. The report tested 304 examples of social engineered malware (SEM) and phishing sites. They found that SmartScreen, a security feature in Edge, blocked 99% of the SEM samples. Chrome blocks 85.8% and Firefox blocks 78.3%.

SmartScreen is only part of the picture

To understand what this means, you need to understand how SmartScreen works. Microsoft SmartScreen was first introduced as a "phishing filter" in Internet Explorer 7 and has been improved in every version since then. Chrome and Firefox have similar warnings, but nothing like the bright red pages in Edge. These features check web pages and applications against lists of known good and bad items. Essentially, NSS Labs' test showed that Microsoft has better lists on malware and phishing sites.

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But SmartScreen is only part of a browser's security. While tools like SmartScreen are helpful, they should hardly be your only line of defense. You should still use a good antivirus in conjunction with something like MalwareBytes to protect yourself if something slips or if something comes from another attack vector. These programs often have their own blockers as well, as shown below.

So Edge can block "21% more social engineered malware", but that doesn't mean it's 21% more secure or that security is just quantifiable. There's a lot more going on in modern web browsers to keep you safe.

The other safety features that are important

With that in mind, let's talk about some other security features you'll find in modern browsers like Edge stacks on Chrome and Firefox.

Sandboxing

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Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome both have fully implemented sandboxing technology. Sandboxes break down every component of the browser - tabs, windows, and plugins - into individual processes. These processes are not allowed to interact with each other or with external processes, making it very difficult for malicious code to spread on your computer.

Splitting a browser into multiple processes can also improve the performance of modern multi-core processors at the expense of increased RAM usage.

Firefox, on the other hand, launched in 2004 when the concept of sandboxing was very new. Right now, it's only Sandboxes Media Plugins, but Mozilla is working on Electrolysis, a project to make Firefox multi-process and sandbox the browser. However, unlike Internet Explorer, which was able to introduce sandboxing in version 10, Firefox had to worry about compatibility with nearly 13 years of extensions. That's why this transition has been so slow.

So when it comes to sandboxing, Edge definitely has an edge (pun intended) over Firefox, but it's on pretty flat ground with Chrome.

Automatic updates

Have you ever wondered why your browser is updated so often? Developers are constantly working to close security loopholes. Of course, only users who install the updates are protected. Automatic updates ensure that most users are running the latest protected versions of the web browser.

Google Chrome is the flagship for automatic software updates. They install quickly and quietly when users close the web browser. Firefox introduced a similar feature for silent updates in 2012.

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Microsoft Edge is also updated automatically, although these patches are made available through Windows Update. (This is one of the main reasons why you shouldn't turn off automatic Windows updates.) However, there is a downside to Edge's approach: Windows updates tend to be slower than Chrome or Firefox browser updates and have to be restarted become computers for Edges Updates to take effect. Microsoft has announced that in the future some Edge updates will be made available through the Windows Store to ensure Edge users stay up to date.

privacy

All three common web browsers have a data protection mode (InPrivate with Edge, Incognito with Chrome and Private Browsing with Firefox). When the privacy window is closed, all history data, cookies and cached data will be removed, leaving nothing on your computer. However, this does not prevent websites or advertisers from tracking you.

Firefox has a clearer advantage in this area. In 2015, Firefox introduced Tracking Protection, which removes known tracking elements from pages visited in private browsing.

In addition, the Tor browser is based on the Firefox source code and offers new data protection and security functions to protect the anonymity of users. Since the same code base is used, it is possible to port changes from TOR to Firefox. Called the "Uplift" program, the two teams began working closely together in 2016. First Party Isolation is the first anti-tracking feature from Tor zu Firefox, with more being planned.

It is also noteworthy that Google and Microsoft, Firefox do not make any money tracking users or selling targeted ads. The larger companies have an incentive not to improve your privacy.

The balance

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Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have very much similar security features at the moment. The claim that Edge is "safer" than Chrome is simply because Microsoft has a better list of bad websites than Chrome. However, if you protect yourself well with antivirus and anti-malware software, you should be pretty safe.

Mozilla Firefox lags behind the other two major browsers, but is on the right track in 2017. However, it is currently better to protect your privacy so that there are at least benefits to it.


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