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IE 7 beta has security improvements under the hood

A look at what's on tap for the next version of Internet Explorer

April 24, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The biggest visible change in Internet Explorer 7 may be the addition of tabbed browsing, but an even more important improvements lurks under the hood: Microsoft has added a host of substantial new security features, ranging from anti-phishing to malware protection, automated security protection, and more. A look at the just-released beta 2 of IE 7 reveals a number of changes and adaptations.

The Anti-Phishing Tool

Perhaps the most important new security feature is IE's new anti-phishing tool, which blocks users from inadvertently visiting sites that are likely to attempt to gather personal info illegitimately. With IE's phishing filter, when you try to visit what Microsoft believes to be a phishing site, IE stops you in your tracks, and a page warns you that you are about to head to a "reported phishing website." You then have the choice of closing the page or ignoring the Microsoft recommendation and continuing to load it.

If the filter instead detects what it is only a suspected phishing site, you're let through, but a yellow button appears next to the address bar labeling the site a "Suspicious Website." You can then decide whether to stay at the site and whether you feel comfortable leaving personal data on it..

What if you're visiting a site that you believe to be suspicious, but hasn't been flagged as such by IE? You can ask IE to check it in real time. Choose Tools-->Phishing Filter-->Check This Website, and IE sends the URL to Microsoft, which analyzes it, and reports whether the site is suspicious,.

IE uses several methods to determine whether a site is legitimate. As a first line of defense, Microsoft maintains a database of known phishing sites, and IE compares sites you visit against that database. The database is updated several times an hour, and is compiled from several data providers, including Cyota, Internet Identity and MarkMonitor, as well as from direct user feedback. In addition, IE uses heuristics to compare characteristics of a site you visit against common characteristics of phishing sites to decide whether the site is legitimate. The heuristic tool is particularly important, since some users will inevitably stumble across phishing sites before they are entered into the Microsoft’s database.

Malware Protection

IE 7 also protects against "drive-by" downloads, in which malware is downloaded to your PC without your knowledge. or isarrives disguised as a legitimate download. IE uses several techniques to protect against this, including new URL-handling protections that stop the exploitation of malformed URLs and prevent buffer overflows from executing code without a user's knowledge. It also offers cross-domain script protection that only allows scripts to interact with content from the same domain in which they originate. (This also helps protect against phishing attacks.) In addition, a new opt-in feature disables all ActiveX controls that a user hasn't specifically enabled.

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