The other IE8 security improvement is Protected Mode. Protected Mode relies on security components in Windows 7 to ensure that malicious or unauthorized code is not allowed to run within the browser. Protected Mode prevents things like drive-by downloads that install malicious software on your system just by visiting a compromised Web site.
3. Protection we love to hate
User Account Control (UAC) is the poster child for everything we love to hate about Windows Vista. With Windows 7, UAC is still there, but Microsoft has added a slider that enables you to control the level of protection --and therefore the amount of pop-ups asking for permission to access or execute files -- UAC provides.
The pop-ups are just a small, but visible, aspect of what UAC does. Many users simply disabled UAC altogether in Windows Vista, but that also turns off Protected Mode IE and some other operating system protection. The slider in Windows 7 is set to the same protection as Windows Vista by default, but you can customize the setting in the Control Panel.
4. Security tools and apps
Because of the kernel-mode protection and the changes Microsoft made regarding how, or if, applications are allowed to interact with the core functionality of the operating system, older anti-virus and other security software is not compatible with Windows 7.
Vendors like McAfee, Symantec, Trend Micro, and others offer Windows7 compatible versions of their security software products, but Microsoft also provides free security tools to protect you if you don't want to invest the additional money.
The Windows Firewall and Windows Defender antispyware tools are included with the base installation of Windows 7. You can also download and install Microsoft Security Essentials, a free anti-virus product released recently by Microsoft.
5. Monitor the Action Center
The Security Center that Windows XP users are familiar with has been replaced by the Windows Action Center. The Action Center is a more comprehensive console for monitoring the Windows 7 system, including security.
The security section of the Action Center provides at-a-glance status regarding the security of your Windows 7 system. It includes information about firewall, spyware, and virus protection, as well as the state of Windows Updates, Internet security settings, and UAC.
There are plenty of good reasons to make the switch to Windows 7. If you are still running Windows XP, security is arguably the best reason to embrace the new operating system. It may or may not be the greatest operating system ever, but it is definitely the most secure Windows operating system ever.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.