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Configure and Troubleshoot Security for Windows Internet Explorer 7 (part 2) - Internet Explorer’s Protected Mode

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Internet Explorer’s Protected Mode

When a process gets launched—by a user, for example—the process is allowed to do only what the user’s level of privilege (rights and permissions) allows. This is true for all processes that run on a computer, including startup services. Startup services usually run under the privilege of a user account that is called the System account. So when a bad guy exploits a vulnerability in (hacks) an application running on a computer, the bad guy acquires the same level of privilege as the user account that was used to launch the hacked application. The bad guy can do only what that user is allowed to do on the computer.

Because Internet Explorer is the application you use to attach to public servers all over the very dangerous Internet, it is the application that gets most exposed to the bad guys and malware. To make your system more secure while you are potentially exposing yourself to the malware and bad guys, Microsoft runs IE7, by default, in Protected Mode any time you are connected to restricted sites, the Internet, or the local intranet. The only zone that Protected Mode is not automatically enabled for is Trusted Sites.

Protected Mode reduces the level of privilege for the user account that launched Internet Explorer. This way, if malware (or a bad guy) attacks and compromises the browser, it can access only a bare minimum of resources on your computer. Protected Mode isolates IE7 from all other applications that are running on the computer and limits the browser to writing only to the Temporary Internet Files folder without explicit user approval. If the browser attempts to write to any other area, the UAC prompt is displayed.

You can observe whether Protected Mode is currently enabled by viewing the status bar, on the lower edge of your browser. Protected Mode is enabled by default for websites in the Internet, Local Intranet, and Restricted zones.


If the status bar is not visible, you can turn it on by right-clicking the command bar and enabling the status bar.

You can access the configuration for Protected Mode by double-clicking this area on the status bar or by accessing the Security tab in Internet Options (from the File menu or the command bar: Tools > Internet Options).

Exam Alert

The Security tab in Internet Options is an important area to become familiar with. This is the place where you configure the security parameters for each of the four security zones: Internet, Local Intranet, Trusted Sites, and Restricted Sites. You can also identify which security zone a specific website belongs in.

In the Custom Level Security Settings dialog box, as shown in Figure 4, you can adjust settings to Disable, Enable, or Prompt you for approval as your browser accesses .NET components, Signed and Unsigned ActiveX controls, and file downloads.

Figure 4. The Custom Settings on the Security tab of Internet Options allow you to disable, enable, or prompt for approval on accessing potentially risky content.

Which Option to Choose?

If you select Enable to turn on more options, your browsing experience is more enhanced and feature rich, with lots of cool cartoons and stuff, but you are more exposed to potentially malicious mobile code and other types of malware.

If you select Disable to turn off more options, you are more secure, minimizing your exposure to the malware, but you see more blank boxes where the active content and mobile code would have presented you some slick banners, cartoons, or other attractive content.

If you select Prompt, with each new web page that you access, you may be prompted one or more times (sometimes in the teens or twenties) to allow or disallow the mobile code and active content.

Make your decisions carefully when configuring these settings. More cartoons and more cute content equal more risk. Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” or as Clint would say, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya?”

If you use Internet Explorer 7 to attach to intranet resources by using their Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path, you may receive a warning. To avoid getting this warning, you can add the UNC path to the Trusted security zone on the Security tab in Internet Options, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Attaching to a UNC path using Internet Explorer can generate trust warnings.


To accomplish the task of entering a UNC path in the Trusted Sites list to avoid this warning, you must clear the Require Server Verification check box on the Trusted Sites dialog box.

Fix Settings for Me...

IE7 monitors the security settings and alerts you if your settings put you at risk. If your IE7 security settings put you at risk while browsing, a warning bar drops down from the address bar to alert you.

You can identify which settings are below the recommended settings by viewing the security settings in Internet Options > Security, where you see a red Security shield on the misconfigured zone. If you select the Custom level button for that zone, any security items highlighted in red are below recommended security settings.

You can right-click the drop-down alert and select the Fix Settings for Me option, as shown in Figure 6, to restore the security settings to their original, recommended levels, like the Medium-High configuration for the Internet zone.

Figure 6. If you have reconfigured your IE security setting, putting you at risk, you can reset security back to its default, secure settings by selecting the Fix Settings for Me option.


Use Caution with Fixing Settings Selecting the Fix Settings for Me option causes you to lose any settings you have configured, including all allowed sites, trusted sites, and restricted sites that have been added to various lists. You may actually weaken security by resetting the security settings to their “recommended” levels.

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