The new public release of Internet Explorer Beta 2 is, according to Microsoft, more stable and ready to be used. But is it ready to go up against Firefox?
Can IE7 resist viruses, spyware, and online attacks?
Since its introduction, the most powerful argument in favor of switching to Firefox has been the promise that it's more secure and less vulnerable than IE to infestations of spyware, viruses, and other forms of malware. Technically, at least, IE7 should level the playing field a bit.
It includes the latest updates to code introduced in Windows XP SP2 that blocks downloads, including ActiveX controls, unless you specifically approve them by clicking the Info Bar and selecting the appropriate menu.
A new URL-parsing module should lessen the impact of "specially crafted URLs" that exploit flaws in browser code, especially buffer overruns that can lead to malware installation. In theory, at least, the URL parser should be able to identify and discard dangerous URLs before they reach potentially vulnerable code.
With IE7, you manage ActiveX controls and other potentially dangerous browser extensions using the same Manage Add-ons dialog box that was introduced to IE6 with Windows XP SP2. One noteworthy change: a new Delete ActiveX button lets you automatically uninstall an ActiveX control. And a Web page won't be able to use an ActiveX control installed with Windows unless you specifically approve.
IE7's optional Phishing Filter automatically checks Web sites to see if they look suspicious or are on a list of known sites used by online thieves to steal identities, displaying a bright red bar for a known phishing site and a yellow bar for suspected but unconfirmed sites.
Access to known phishing sites is blocked with a bold red bar -- continue at your own risk. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
Is the Phishing Filter a security gimmick or a genuinely useful layer of protection? It's too early to say. In limited tests, I found the Phishing Filter reasonably accurate at identifying the current crop of phishing attempts. But will the criminal gangs that run phishing scams be able to fine-tune their mailings to work around this filter? In fact, that's the problem with most of the security changes in IE7. Although the new architecture looks good on paper, no one will be able to pronounce IE7 suitably secure until it has survived a year or more without an embarrassing security crisis.
Advantage: Firefox (for now)
Which browser will be more secure in Windows Vista?
For Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, IE7 is a free upgrade. By contrast, the new browser code is built into Windows Vista, which is due to be delivered to corporate customers at the end of this year and to the retail channel in January 2007. The Vista version of IE7 incorporates the same security improvements as its XP counterpart, but adds Protected Mode browsing, in which even trusted add-ons are quarantined and given write access only to a set of virtualized folders. This feature, combined with Windows Vista's strict User Account Control, should make it much tougher for malware to sneak onto a system.
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