Microsoft says Windows 7 is the most secure version of the Windows operating system ever developed. Big deal, right? I am pretty sure that Microsoft has made that claim for every new version of Microsoft Windows in the past 15 years, and that it is a valid claim.
What else would you expect? Is Microsoft going to come out with a new operating system and make it less secure than its predecessor? I think not. Still, while the marketing around Windows 7 security may be part hyperbole, there are actually a number of significant security improvements to be aware of, especially for Windows XP users making (or considering) the transition to Windows 7. Many of these security updates existed in Windows Vista as well, so Vista users should already be familiar with them.
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1. Protecting the core
The kernel is the heart of the operating system, which also makes it a prime target for malware and other attacks. Basically, if an attacker can access or manipulate the operating system kernel, they can execute malicious code at a level that is undetectable by other applications or even by the operating system itself. Microsoft developed kernel-mode protection to protect the kernel and ensure there is no unauthorized access.
In addition to protecting the kernel, Microsoft has made some other fundamental improvements since Windows XP to protect the operating system. Many attacks rely on the attacker being able to know where a specific function or command resides within memory, or the ability to perform attacks on files that are supposed to contain only data.
Address Space Layer Randomization (ASLR) keeps attackers guessing about where to attack by randomizing the memory locations of key operating system functions. Microsoft also developed Data Execution Prevention (DEP) to prevent files that are supposed to contain data or that are stored in an area reserved for data from executing code of any type.
2. Safer Web browsing
Windows 7 comes with the latest and greatest version of Internet Explorer, IE8. You can download and use IE8 with other versions of Windows, so it's not specific to Windows 7, but it does contain some security enhancements worth nothing.
First, InPrivate Browsing provides the ability to surf the Web in private as the name implies. When you launch an InPrivate Browsing window, Internet Explorer does not save any information related to your Web surfing. That means that there is no cache containing information you typed and no history of the sites you visited. This is especially useful if you are using IE8 on a shared or public computer, like at a library.