PayPal warns of Apple Safari usage

PayPal has issued a warning regarding the Apple’s Safari web browser, and left Safari out of its list of recommended browsers because it lacks two anti-phishing security features: Safari has no built-in phishing filter to warn users of suspicious sites Safari has no support for EV (Extended Validation) certificates, a secure web browsing technology that gives a […]

PayPal has issued a warning regarding the Apple’s Safari web browser, and left Safari out of its list of recommended browsers because it lacks two anti-phishing security features:

  • Safari has no built-in phishing filter to warn users of suspicious sites
  • Safari has no support for EV (Extended Validation) certificates, a secure web browsing technology that gives a visual cue in the browser when it visits a legitimate web site.

If you're using Apple's Safari browser, PayPal has some advice for you: Drop it, at least if you want to avoid online fraud.

Safari doesn't make PayPal's list of recommended browsers because it doesn't have two important anti-phishing security features, according to Michael Barrett, PayPal's chief information security officer.

"Apple, unfortunately, is lagging behind what they need to do, to protect their customers," Barrett said in an interview. "Our recommendation at this point, to our customers, is use Internet Explorer 7 or 8 when it comes out, or Firefox 2 or Firefox 3, or indeed Opera."

Safari is the default browser on Apple's Macintosh computers and the iPhone, but it is also available for the PC. Both Firefox and Opera run on the Mac.

Unlike its competitors, Safari has no built-in phishing filter to warn users when they are visiting suspicious Web sites, Barrett said. Another problem is Safari's lack of support for another anti-phishing technology, called Extended Validation (EV) certificates. This is a secure Web browsing technology that turns the address bar green when the browser is visiting a legitimate Web site.

When it comes to fighting phishing, "Safari has got nothing in terms of security support, only SSL (Secure Sockets Layer encryption), that's it," he said. Apple representatives weren't immediately available to comment on this story.

An emerging technology, EV certificates are already supported in Internet Explorer 7, and they've been used on PayPal's Web site for more than a year now. When IE 7 visits PayPal, the browser's address bar turns green -- a sign to users that the site is legitimate. Upcoming versions of Firefox and Opera are expected to support the technology.

But EV certificates have their critics. Last year, researchers at Microsoft and Stanford University published a study showing that, without training, people were unlikely to notice the green address-bar notification provided by EV certificates.

Still, Barrett says data compiled on PayPal's Web site show that the EV certificates are having an effect. He says IE 7 users are more likely to sign on to PayPal's Web site than users who don't have EV certificate technology, presumably because they're confident that they're visiting a legitimate site.

Over the past few months, IE 7 users have been less likely to drop out and abandon the process of signing on to PayPal, he said. "It's a several percentage-point drop in abandonment rates," he said. "That number is... measurably lower for IE 7 users."

Opera, IE, and Firefox are "safer, precisely because we think they are safer for the average consumer," he added. "I'd love to say that Safari was a safer browser, but at this point it isn't." [Infoworld]

So is the Safari browser really less secure because of these missing features? In our mind, it seems that phishing filters and EV certificates are secure only insofar as people are cognizant of the technology. Some studies show (download PDF) that EV certificates aren't effective unless someone is specifically trained to notice the green address-bar notification. And how many times do you think some unwitting computer user has clicked through a warning of a possible phishing attempt?

PayPal, Apple, Safari, Browser, Microsoft, Internet Explorer, IE7, IE, Mozilla, Firefox, Security, Vulnerability