IE 8 beta gives other browsers a run for their money

With the newest public beta version of its Internet Explorer browser, Microsoft meets, and in some cases exceeds, the security features available in other browsers.

Don't count Internet Explorer out just yet.

On Wednesday, Microsoft released the second public beta for Internet Explorer 8. If anything, this release brings IE up to par with alternative browsers such as Opera, Apple's Safari, and Mozilla's Firefox in terms of security and features. It also pushes Microsoft a little ahead of the competition.

The user interface hasn't changed much since Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1, except to add a Security pull-down menu between Page and Tools on the main toolbar. In addition to blocking phishing sites, IE 8 now highlights the main domain of any Web site you visit. Thus if you think you are on eBay's site and something other than ebay.com is highlighted, chances are you are on the wrong Web site.

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IE 8 also contains a cross-site scripting filter, one of the first in a mainstream browser. Cross-site scripting allows an attacker to execute script on a user's browser without them knowing. When the IE 8 filter finds a Web page with a cross-site scripting request, it changes the content on the page with a notice. Users are not presented with an option; IE simply blocks the malicious script from executing and then displays the rest of the page.

In another feature, known as InPrivate, Microsoft allows the user to suspend caching functions while you surf. The scenarios for using InPrivate include when you're using someone else's computer, like for instance, when you need to buy a gift for a loved one without ruining the surprise, or when you're at an Internet kiosk and don't want the next person to know which Web site you visited. While you can currently clear the browser cache with a mouse click, it's an all-or-nothing action. InPrivate temporarily suspends the automatic caching functions, allowing you to keep the rest of your browsing history intact. Apple Safari has offered this feature for a while, but Mozilla Firefox does not .

IE 8 Beta 1 has already introduced several behind-the-scenes security changes . For example, ActiveX components will be installed per user, which eliminates the need for everyone to have administrator privileges. In addition, you must acknowledge or opt in for the component to run, eliminating drive-by downloads. Components will be per site and will only be available from the site of origin. Finally, site developers can request killbits from Microsoft which can be sent via Windows Update to terminate risky or outdated components.

Also, IE 8 Beta 1 included Microsoft's own brand of malware protection. Earlier this year, Opera added Haute Secure malware protection, and Mozilla enhanced its Google and StopBadware malware protection in Firefox 3.

See also:
Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 screenshots
Review: Internet Explorer 8 beta 2
Daily Debrief video: The newest IE 8

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Security
About the author

    As CNET's former resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security.

     

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