Internet Explorer 8: Safety

Introduction

Most people with very minimal computer background use their web browser without thinking about web safety. They just expect their computer to do its job. Well, there is more than meets the eye when surfing the Internet, especially if you are using someone elses computer or a computer shared by many other people. Here’s what I mean.

When you are browsing the Internet, your web browser leaves a trail of where you’ve been, what you’ve typed, what you’ve seen, and the various information you’ve been entering in web forms. In Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), it even remembers the state of you browser so that if it crashes, you can be restored to the last state of your browsing activity.

Now think about who could potentially see this if you are using a public computer or a shared computer! This is an identity theft scenario just waiting to happen.

IE8's Safety

IE8's Safety

This is where IE8 Safety feature comes into play.  Microsoft has updated IE8 with Internet safety as a major change.  As an example, one of the key things you will notice is that IE8 has an InPrivate Browsing feature–a way for you to browse without leaving a trace.  Note that IE8 has no Phishing Filter as it has been replace by SmartScreen Filter.

Delete Browsing History

Clicking this menu item will bring up the Delete Browsing History dialog box where you can select the specific items in your browsing history you want to delete.  The options include:

  • Preserve Favorite website data:  to keep cookies and temporary Internet files that enable your favorite websites to retain site preferences and display faster
  • Temporary Internet files:  copies of web pages, images, and media that are temporarily saved by IE8 for faster viewing
  • Cookies:  files stored on your computer by websites to save preferences such as your login information
  • History:  list of websites you’ve visited
  • Form Data:  information you typed into web forms
  • Passwords:  saved passwords that are automatically filled in when you login to a website you’ve previously logged in
  • InPrivate Filtering data:  Saved data used by InPrivate Filtering to detect where websites may be automatically sharing details about your visit

If you are paranoid like me, you’ll want to make sure that any trace of your browsing history is truly deleted by making sure you check all of the above and uncheck the first one–Preserve Favorite Website Data.

InPrivate Browsing

InPrivate Browsing

InPrivate Browsing

Selecting this menu item or pressing CTRL-SHIFT-P, will open a new IE8 window running in “InPrivate” browsing mode.  This means that your browsing activity isn’t leaving any trails behind.  Be advised that this InPrivate protection is only in effect for this window.  By default, IE8 will open in its normal mode.

You should use this mode when using public or shared computers to prevent others from finding information about your web activity.

Web Page Privacy Policy

This is basically a report of which sites you’ve visited showing if cookies were accepted or blocked.  Depending on your browser’s privacy policy setting, you may or may not have any reports of cookies being accepted by your system.

Privacy Report

Privacy Report

If you select one of the sites in your privacy report, you will notice that the Summary button becomes enabled, and if you click it you will get the following dialog box:

Privacy Report Summary

Privacy Report Summary

If you decide that the current browser privacy policy isn’t sufficient or you simply wish to change it, you can click the Settings button Privacy Report dialog box.  When you do you get this:

Privacy Policy Settings

Privacy Policy Settings

As you can see, it can get pretty involved just trying to make heads or tails of Privacy Policy.  Suffice it to say that in this window you can control how cookies are allowed or disallowed on your computer.  You can also control the pop-up blocker  and control InPrivate browsing settings.  I’ll cover this area in more detail in another article.

InPrivate Filtering and Settings

When you select Safety then InPrivate Filtering from the command bar, you toggle on and off this feature.  What exactly is InPrivate Filtering?  It is a feature that allows you to block the sharing of information about the sites you visit to third party content providers.  This information can be used to generate a profile about you which then can be used for targetted advertisements.

You can choose to automatically block, choose which ones to block/allow, or to simply have it off by selecting the InPrivate Filtering Settings menu item from the Safety command bar drop down menu.  The window for InPrivate Settings is shown below.

InPrivate Filtering Settings

InPrivate Filtering Settings

Security Report

The feature activates when the site you are visiting is secure–meaning it is using HTTPS in the URL.  When you select this from the menu (under Safety in the command bar), IE8 will bring up a little pop up window that provides information about the site.  The example below show what I got when I went to the logon page of gmail.

Security Report on gmail

Security Report on gmail

As you can see, it provides information about who the certificate of authority (CA)  is and other information related to the site’s certificates.   Typically, the CA is the one vouching for the sites identity.  In this case the CA is Verisign–a very reputable CA company.

International Website Address

There isn’t really much information about this function in IE8.  The closest thing on this I can find from Microsoft is an article on “What are International Domain Names?

This item appears to be disabled or grayed out all the time.  So there was no way to determine exactly what it does.  Although, I’m guessing that if a site is an international site where the domain name can be shown in its native language, then this feature might allow you to show it in its original form or standard text encoding.

This appears to be a security feature because it is possible for text encoding to look like a legitimate looking domain when, in fact, it is a foreign site!

You’ll probably not even use this, but it is good to know what it may be used for.

SmartScreen Filter

This is IE8’s replacement for the Phishing Filter that was introduced in IE7.  When it is on, IE8 will send the website you are visiting to Microsoft to check to see if it is in the list of phishing or malicious software distribution sites.  It it is, you will get an RED background in the address bar and you will get a block message from IE8.  You can ignore the message and continue to the bad site or you can go to your home page (recommended).

If you suspect a site is a suspicious or potentially malicious site, you can submit a site to Microsoft for review by selecting Check This Website from the SmartScreen Filter submenu.

Although it isn’t recommended, you can turn off this feature by selecting Turn Off SmartScreen Filter from the submenu.

If you visit a site that is obviously a malicious one, you can simply report this abuse by selecting Report Unsafe Website from the SmartScreen Filter submenu.

As you can see, this is a very powerful feature of IE8 to help protect users from malicious sites that are there to potentially steal your identity or to spread malware to your computer.

Windows Update

This feature will navigate you out of the page you are currently viewing to Microsoft’s update site.  There Microsoft will assess what updates your computer needs and you can opt to install them.

I recommend installing critical security updates at the very minimum as these will close any vulnerabilities your computer might have from hackers who will exploit them.

Conclusion

IE8 is a major change from the previous versions due to heavy focus on security.  The Safety feature of IE8 is a testament to that.

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