Internet Explorer 8 Security Features Lacking

I became excited when I read the press release for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 browser software.  IE has traditionally lagged behind Firefox when it comes to security so I thought I would investigate.  According to Microsoft, IE8 incorporates many new and in some cases interesting security features.  I installed it on my laptop and have been using it for several days.  Below are my impressions.

The InPrivate Browsing feature allows you to browse the web without the browser keeping any record of the sites you have visited.  No cookies, no history, no form data, etc.  Microsoft claims this is useful in situations where a computer is shared by different people and you don’t want others to know what sites you have been visiting.  Such as when a husband is searching for a birthday gift for his wife and he wants to keep it a secret.  Right!  More likely this feature will be used to keep others from seeing the adult sites that are being visiting.  In my testing this feature did work as advertised and could be useful when using a public computer.

SmartScreen Filter is a feature that is supposed to alert you when you attempt to access a suspicious or known malicious web site.  For example, it should block access to sites that are known to host malware as well as phishing sites.  I tested this feature by attempting to visit a few known malicious web sites including some phishing web sites (don’t try this at home!).  In each case IE8 failed to detect and block access to the site even though SmartScreen Filter was enabled.  On the other hand, Firefox 3.0.1 blocked each site of the same sites, appropriately alerting me to the danger of the requested site. 

Finally, Content Advisor, which has been around since IE6, is a feature that allows you to restrict access to web sites based on content categories such as gambling, nudity, etc.  It also allows you to specifically deny access to user defined URLs.  This is a great feature especially for parents of young children who want to prevent them from accessing inappropriate sites.  Content Advisor has been maligned for years and it has not improved any with IE8.  It relies on a rating system in which web developers rate their own content.  Many sites have no rating and others have incorrect ratings leading to a content filtering system that is virtually useless.  If you are looking for parental control software and don’t have much money to spend, try Blue Coat’s K9 product which is FREE for home use.

In sum, IE8’s security features were a little disappointing.  To be fair it is a beta release.  Perhaps these issues will be addressed by the general release product.  I will revisit it in the future to see if they listened to my criticisms.  For now I am sticking with Firefox.

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