Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7.0
A new era of security
Microsoft Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7.0 promise significant security improvements over today's Microsoft products.
This week I've really drunk the Microsoft Kool Aid. I've been looking at the next generation of the core Microsoft products: Microsoft Windows Vista and the beta of Internet Explorer 7.0. Both products promise significant security enhancements when they are finalised towards the end of this year.
Operating system security
Historically, Windows has made it easy to run in administrator mode. Essentially this gives the user the keys to the kingdom when it comes to installing programs, changing files and allowing other users to access your computer. While it has been possible to create more limited user accounts, it hasn't always been convenient to do so. Windows Vista is set to make this a lot easier and, in doing so, make it harder for viruses and spyware to take root. It can also make it easier to stop employees installing unwanted software on your PCs.
�...code has been rewritten to make it less vulnerable to attack�
While Windows Defender (an anti-spyware program) is available for free download from Microsoft's website, it will be built into Vista which means more protection for more users. Also, the latest Windows Vista firewall is an improvement on the existing firewall because it also checks outgoing links to the internet as well as inbound attacks. This makes it harder for dodgy software to communicate - an extra layer of protection if the front lines are breached.
Internet Explorer is how the majority of internet users browse the worldwide web. However, it hasn't been updated for several years and rivals, such as Opera and Firefox, have been nipping at its heels. Version 7 is a major improvement, adding many of the features these rivals have.
From my security perspective, however, it adds a couple of neat features that will help keep people safer online. It adds an anti-phishing feature that alerts users to fake websites that have been set up to con people into entering private information. If you go to a known phishing site, the new browser will give you a warning.
The browser's underlying code has been rewritten to make it less vulnerable to attack and it gives users more control over so-called plug-ins, such as ActiveX controls, that add extra functionality but can sometimes be used by online criminals or to deliver unwanted popup advertising.
You can download a copy of the beta version of Internet Explorer 7.0 from Microsoft's website. Beta means that it is not finished and there are likely to be some bugs but you can have a play with it and if it works, fine; if not, it is easy to uninstall and go back to the previous version.
What I'm doing
Right now, I use Firefox to browse the web (don't fire me, Microsoft!), although I use Internet Explorer 6, the old version, to access a few sites that don't work on Firefox. I run Windows XP with all the latest service packs but I've got a test system running Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7, as well as a beta of the latest version of Microsoft Office. If the final versions of these products deliver on their current work-in-progress potential, I'll be upgrading as soon as they go final.
Read Matthew's previous columns in our Security Bulletin archive.
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