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Configure and Troubleshoot Security for Windows Internet Explorer 7 (part 1) - Pop-Up Blocker & Phishing Filter

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Windows Internet Explorer 7 is installed by default in Vista. Security has been enhanced like never before in this version of the browser. The security features include
  • Pop-up blocker

  • Phishing filter

  • Protected Mode

  • Fix Settings for Me...

  • Cookie handling

  • ActiveX opt-in

  • Security Status Bar

  • Digital certificates

  • Clear the browsing history, cached content, cookies, form data, and saved passwords

Pop-Up Blocker

Pop-ups are extra windows that appear when you visit a website. They are usually advertisements and are often from an advertiser other than the website you intended to visit. At best, they rob your bandwidth and show you advertisements that you may or may not be interested in. At worst, they can be used to download and install malware onto your computer. You can turn on the pop-up blocker and configure it to block all pop-ups (High), most pop-ups (Medium), or all but pop-ups from secure (SSL) websites (Low). You can also add websites to an Allowed Sites list for the pop-ups if you choose to.

You enable the pop-up blocker by clicking Tools on the command bar, as shown in Figure 1. From here, you can highlight Pop-Up Blocker and select Turn On Pop-up Blocker, Turn Off Pop-Up Blocker, or configure Pop-Up Blocker Settings. Typically, you should turn it on and configure it for Medium protection.

Figure 1. The Tools menu from the command bar provides access to Phishing Filter and Pop-Up Blocker settings, as well as the Internet Options dialog box.

You can also access the configuration for the pop-up blocker by accessing the lower half of the Privacy tab in Internet Options (from the File menu or the command bar: Tools > Internet Options). Figure 2 shows the Internet Options dialog box.

Figure 2. Many security controls are located on the Internet Options dialog box.

When Pop-Ups Are Good...

Some sites actually have beneficial pop-ups, like your horoscope, or Outlook Web Access Calendar Reminders. For any of these types of websites where you want the pop-ups, simply select Tools > Pop-Up Blocker > Pop-Up Blocker Settings and add the website to the Allowed Sites list (as shown in Figure 3).

Figure 3. Sometimes pop-ups are a good thing.

Phishing Filter

Phishing is when a bad guy tricks you into visiting his bogus website so he can do bad things to you, to your browser, and/or to your computer system. This is usually accomplished by convincing you the website is legitimate and is a website you should want to go to. Very often the bad guys spoof a legitimate website, like your bank or credit card company, by copying all the legitimate graphics and text, and then they send you an email implying that you need to validate some information, or they have some incredible offer for you. When you visit the bogus website, they steal your passwords, credit card information, or can download malware to your computer.

Internet Explorer 7 has a built-in Phishing filter to help protect you from the bad things that a phishing site can and will do to you. You can configure the Phishing filter by selecting the Tools button on the command bar and selecting Check this Website to check the domain name against a list of known phishing sites, Turn On (or Off) the Phishing Filter, Report a website as illegitimate, or configure the Phishing Filter settings. This last option opens the Advanced tab of the Internet Options dialog box, where you can fine-tune how the Phishing filter works.

The Phishing filter in IE7 is updated several times each hour and warns you when you attempt to access a website that appears to be illegitimate or one that has been reported as a phishing site.

Suspicious websites cause the IE7 address bar (also called the Security Status Bar) to turn yellow, as a warning to proceed with caution. The yellow warning presents the site’s web page to you.

If the website is a known phishing website, the address bar changes to red as a warning, and IE7 does not present the site’s web page to you. You must override IE7’s warning to proceed to the potentially harmful website.

To Proceed or Not to Proceed

Ignoring the Phishing filter’s warning and proceeding to the suspicious website might be a really bad thing to do. The warning popped up for a reason, and very often, the warning is correct. Proceed only if you are absolutely certain that the website is known and trusted as safe.

You should also visually confirm the address that you are connected to. Very often, the website looks legitimate, and you may have gotten connected through what looked like a trusted source, but the bad guys have redirected you to their bogus, malicious website.

If you choose to proceed, recognize that you may be compromising the security of your computer and of your private information. If your computer is on a network, like at home or in an office, you might be inviting the bad guys into that network. This decision may be bigger than just you, your computer, and your private information. You may be giving up the entire network to the bad guys!


If the website has been reported as a potential phishing website, and you know or believe it is not a phishing website, you can choose to report the website as a safe site by selecting I Don’t Think This Is a Phishing Website from the warning.

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