If you browse with Internet Explorer, get the latest version
Microsoft's market-leading browser isn't as safe as Firefox or Opera, but you can enhance your security by updating IE regularly.
Dennis O'ReillyFormer CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Microsoft's Internet Explorer remains the most popular browser in the world. This despite report after report calling the program less secure than Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and other free competitors.
Yet IE remains the preferred browser of nearly four out of five people surfing the Web. If you're one of the Web majority, there's one thing you can do to enhance your online security: Update to the latest IE release.
According to Net Applications, IE 6 accounted for more than 26 percent of the browser market in June 2008, while IE 7 was used by over 46 percent of all people on the Web. If your PC runs Windows 2000 or an earlier version of the OS, you can't upgrade to version 7 of IE. Unless your boss insists that you use the older version of the browser on XP or Vista, you've got no excuse for not upgrading to the safer IE 7.
Unfortunately, Microsoft updates the browser only once a month, and even then not all known holes in the browser will be plugged, as Michael Horowitz pointed out in his Defensive Computing blog last week (scroll down to read the updates).
Even with Microsoft's spotty update record, it pays to upgrade to IE 7, and to download and install all available security patches for that version of the browser. If you set Windows to download updates automatically but prompt you to install them, or to alert you when updates are ready to download (as I described in a previous post), click the update-alert icon when it appears in your system tray to open the Windows Update Control Panel applet. In Vista, choose "View available updates" in the right pane under the Install Updates button.
Check the updates you want to install. Look specifically for security patches for Internet Explorer. Once you've made your selections, click Install.
As with all Windows updates, you may want to wait a day or two after an IE patch is released before installing it. Then keep an eye on the tech-news sites for reports of update-related glitches. If all appears to be well with the update, add it to your system. Remember what they say about the pioneers being the ones with the arrows in their backs.