Netscape ready to launch antiphishing browser

New Netscape 8 promises to alert Web surfers when they visit a site that's known to be malicious.

Netscape is expected to release on Thursday the final version of Netscape 8, a Web browser designed to protect users against online scams such as phishing.

Early test versions of the new browser--so-called alpha and beta releases--have been available since February. Netscape has promised that the final version, like the previous ones, will include features to better safeguard systems while people surf the Web. Netscape 8 is also expected to have a cleaner look and feel, but not to be dramatically different from the public beta released in March.

A representative for Netscape, a division of media giant Time Warner's America Online subsidiary, declined to confirm the launch plans, which leaves it open to being pushed back.

With the release, Netscape is challenging Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer Web browser, which has been the subject of many security vulnerabilities. Also, Netscape hopes to piggyback on the success of Firefox, the open-source Web browser that was released in November and has been downloaded nearly 57 million times.

In the most recent test version, the Netscape 8 browser automatically adjusts security settings based on a list of known malicious Web sites to protect users from phishing scams. The blacklist of Web sites that are suspected of hosting spyware or phishing schemes will be updated regularly, Netscape has said.

When someone visits a Web site, red and green check marks in the browser tab will show them whether the site is known to be dangerous or safe.

Phishing scams are a prevalent type of online fraud attempt to steal sensitive user information such as user names, passwords and credit card information. The attacks typically combine spam e-mail and fraudulent Web pages that look like legitimate sites.

Netscape 8 is based on Firefox and uses that browser's Gecko rendering engine by default. But the new software also supports the Internet Explorer browser engine. Trusted Web sites are displayed with fewer restrictions and will use by default the Internet Explorer engine for maximum compatibility.

A preview version of the browser was released to a small group of testers in February, followed by a public beta in March.

Netscape once dominated the Web browser market, but was marginalized after Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer. Microsoft's browser still dominates in terms of usage, but Firefox and other browsers have been pecking at its market share. At the end of April, Microsoft held 88.86 percent of the U.S. browser market and Firefox stood at 6.75 percent, according to data from Web analytics firm WebSideStory.