Why you should immediately upgrade to Internet Explorer 8

IE6 and IE7 holdouts are vulnerable to exploits, say Internet security experts.

By , TechNewsDaily Senior Writer

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    Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 8 browser offers better security and improved features.
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Internet Explorer 8 browser made headway in April according to this month's report from Internet tracking firm NetMarketShare, but there are still more than 66 million Americans who need to upgrade their web browsers from earlier versions of Internet Explorer for better security and improved features.

TechNewsDaily spoke with Jamz Yaneza, Senior Threat Research Manager for Trend Micro, Inc., a global leader in Internet content security, about the importance of upgrading to Internet Explorer 8 (IE8). "Bad guys will always attack the low hanging fruit – un-patched or un-patchable applications including browsers," said Yaneza. "So if you haven’t upgraded, you are using a buggy (even buggier than before patching) version and aren’t doing anything to minimize your attack surface."

IE8 became the most frequently used browser in January 2010 with 22 percent of the U.S. market, overtaking IE6 for the first time since its release in March 2009.

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If IE6 and IE7 holdouts upgrade to IE8, Microsoft would have more than half the U.S. browser market compared to 21 percent for Mozilla Firefox 3.6 and 3.5 combined, 5 percent for Google Chrome, and the remaining user share split among Safari, Opera and Netscape.

Special offers

Microsoft continues to encourage its Internet Explorer users to upgrade to IE8 using a carrot and stick approach. As a warning to users of other browsers, Microsoft published the results of an NSS Labs study that showed IE8 blocked 85 percent of malicious links in browser tests run over an 18 day period in January 2010, nearly three times the blocked rate of other browsers.

Efforts to encourage users of older versions peaked in February when "Operation Aurora" attacked computers using IE6, and Germany, Australia and France issued public warnings against using the out-of-date browser. Support for IE6 was terminated by some Google applications on March 1. And still, the number of IE6 and IE7 users exceed IE8 users by 9 million.

Yaneza said, "You fix knocks on your coffee table and add an extra layer of varnish to protect it – the same concept needs to be applied to upgrades." He said an updated browser offers more speed and greater stability as well as better security.

"It doesn’t make sense to use your oldest horse in battle," Yaneza told TechNewsDaily, "Or for that matter, an old tool when trying to work in a web-centric environment."

In an effort to dramatically reduce that figure, Microsoft is also offering incentives to users to upgrade their browsers. For example, IE8 includes Web Slices to provide front page access to frequently tracked sites with sports scores, auction updates, stock quotes and weather. By clicking the Web Slices icon when it's visible, the web slice will be automatically added to the Favorites Bar. When information is updated, the icon will be highlighted to alert the user who can view "the slice" from any browser page in a small window.

Users can add slices from participating sites as they browse the Internet or select slices from Add-ons Gallery: Web Slices. The latest sites to offer Web Slices include Slate, JetBlue Travel Deals and Barron's.

Private browsing

IE8 also offers a private browsing mode called InPrivate, which Microsoft touts as a way to shop for surprise gifts, but it's commonly referred to as "porn mode." Private browsing automatically conceals sites visited by erasing browsing and search history, cookies, form data and passwords. It also clears the browser cache at the end of each session. Once activated, subsequent users will not stumble across any previous data.

To turn on InPrivate, open a new tab, select "InPrivate" under the Safety dropdown menu, which will open a new browsing window. As long as you stay in this second window, your data will not be stored.

The free IE8 upgrade can be downloaded by both IE6 and IE7 users. After installation, restart the computer and start browsing with added security and new useful features.

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