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Microsoft Details Security Features in Internet Explorer 8

IE8 Beta 1 will be available to consumers this summer

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA 2008 Conference -- Microsoft will release the first beta version of Internet Explorer 8 to consumers this summer, with new security features that add more protection for both browser-based and server-based attacks, as well as social engineering exploits.

Craig Spiezle, director of security, safety, and industry for Windows product management at Microsoft, said here in an interview that IE8 Beta 1 builds on and expands some of the security features of IE7. Microsoft released the beta version of its upcoming browser to developers early last month. Spiezle wouldn't say when Microsoft will roll out the final version of IE8.

Among the key features for enterprises is the ability to pre-configure most of IE8’s browser settings and to control them via Microsoft’s Group Policy application. Other new security features include cross-document messaging (XDM), which lets documents communicate securely and across domains; cross domain request (XdomainRequests), which supports secure Web 2.0 and mashup applications; a data execution prevention feature to quash a malicious executable; and new ActiveX controls.

IE8 also highlights the real domain name of a URL in the address bar -- so it’s easier to detect suspicious URLs that attempt to pose as legitimate ones -- and enhances Microsoft’s phishing filter by analyzing the entire URL string. “The enhanced Safety Filter does more granular analysis of the URL string -- we’re finding that phishers are getting more creative in their designs of URLs,” Microsoft’s Spiezle says.

And IE8’s new default Data Execution Prevention feature helps defend against buffer overflow attacks, says Austin Wilson, director of Windows product management. It basically stops malware that tries to execute on a page that a user is browsing. “If there’s vulnerability and the exploit tries to do a buffer overflow and write to executable memory,” this feature terminates the executable, Wilson says. “And it only closes the tab you’re on that’s trying to do the exploit.”

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading