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12/15/2011
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Internet Explorer To Get 'Silent' Updates

Microsoft will provide automatic upgrades to IE users -- but enterprises can opt out

Microsoft will begin pushing "silent" updates to its Internet Explorer (IE) browser to ensure users are deploying the newest versions of the browser. Users will no longer get a pop-up prompt to then update the browser with security patches and other updates.

Google already automatically updates Chrome for its users, and Mozilla has plans to roll out a silent-update mechanism, as well. Microsoft's announcement today of the automatic updates for IE follows its recent announcement that it will streamline updates for Windows 8, where the new operating system will require just one restart per month for all updates. Windows 8 machines will require a restart only when security updates requiring a restart are installed.

"Silent updating is generally seen as a big improvement to security on the Internet," said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, in a post today in response to the auto-updates for IE. Kandek points to a recent study at the Swiss Technical University ETH, which shows how the newest versions of IE result in better security.

But enterprises aren't bound by Microsoft's new automatic update feature: They can opt out of the silent updates if they prefer to time their own browser updates. "While the benefits of upgrading are numerous, we recognize that some organizations and individuals may want to opt-out and set their own upgrade pace. One of the things we’re committed to as we move to auto updates is striking the right balance for consumers and enterprises – getting consumers the most up-to-date version of their browser while allowing enterprises to update their browsers on their schedule," said Ryan Gavin, general manager for Internet Explorer business and marketing, in a post today.

Enterprises can deploy the Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits, which stop automatic upgrades of IE. And users who had already declined previous installations of IE8 or IE9 through Windows Update won't get pushed the silent updates.

"Customers have the ability to uninstall updates and continue to receive support for the version of IE that came with their copy of Windows. And similar to organizations, consumers can block the update all together and upgrade on their own. Finally, future versions of IE will provide an option in the product for consumers to opt out of automatic upgrading," Microsoft's Gavin said.

Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer and founder of WhiteHat Security, gave Microsoft's new silent update policy a thumb's up. "Automatic updates are a very good idea based on every piece of security research I've seen. Keeping software up-to-date -- particularly Web browsers -- is critical for online security. With that in mind, I'm pleased that Microsoft is moving toward an automatic update model, particularly since their approach balances the needs of enterprise customers who still need a mechanism to manage software updates," Grossman says.

[How Microsoft is trying to make its software updates as seamless as possible. See Windows 8 To Streamline Patching Reboots. ]

Microsoft says auto-updates are key for consumers. "For consumers, the safety benefits are one of the key reasons that the industry has been moving towards automatic updates as the norm. This is increasingly important since the biggest online threat these days is socially engineered malware, which typically targets outdated software like Web browsers," Gavin said.

In January, Windows users in Australia and Brazil will be the first to receive automatic updating, and Microsoft will roll it out over time to other regions.

"The Web overall is better – and safer – when more people run the most up-to-date browser. Our goal is to make sure that Windows customers have the most up-to-date and safest browsing experience possible, with the best protections against malicious software such as malware," Microsoft's Gavin says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

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