Microsoft outlines IE 7 security plans

Internet Explorer version 7 will support a more robust protocol for encrypting user data and securing online transactions.

Microsoft is tightening up the way its Internet Explorer browser handles HTTPS for version 7, which is used to secure online transactions, in an attempt to give people more protection online.

In a posting on the Microsoft Internet Explorer blog, IE program manager Eric Lawrence said that IE 7 would support the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol by default.

Existing versions of IE automatically use the SSL 2.0 protocol, which is weaker than TLS, to encrypt user data, although it is possible to manually switch to TLS.

Microsoft's decision to ditch support for SSL 2.0 means that any site that still requires this protocol should upgrade, but Lawrence claimed there are "only a handful" of such sites.

Lawrence also explained how IE 7 will behave differently from earlier versions when it encounters potential security problems.

"Whenever IE6 encountered a problem with a HTTPS-delivered Web page, the user was informed via a modal dialog box and was asked to make a security decision. IE 7 follows the XPSP2 'secure by default' paradigm by defaulting to the secure behavior," said Lawrence.

IE 7 will not give users the option of seeing both secure and insecure items within an HTTPS page. With IE6, this option appears when the browser encounters an HTTPS page that includes some HTTP content. But in IE 7, only the secure content will be rendered by default, forcing the user to choose to access the rest via the information bar.

"This is an important change because very few users (or web developers) fully understand the security risks of rendering HTTP-delivered content within a HTTPS page," Lawrence claimed.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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