Microsoft has launched a beta version of its anti-phishing filter for its MSN search toolbar.
The announcement, made on Tuesday, came a week after Microsoft had made public its plans to launch the software soon and denied that this was a change of plan. Many had assumed the filter would only appear in Internet Explorer 7, which does not yet have a launch date.
However, the Microsoft Phishing Filter beta has only been made available to Internet users based in the US. A Microsoft UK spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the company will "introduce the technology in additional markets over the coming year".
As well as the Microsoft Phishing Filter beta, the MSN Search Toolbar has also gained a Games add-in that will give one-click access to online games through MSN Games.
The add-ins are part of Microsoft's "ongoing mission... to help people find precisely what they want," according to Dane Glasgow, product unit manager for MSN. According to Microsoft, its Phishing Filter is "the first such technology to be integrated into a Web search toolbar".
Microsoft began to focus on phishing as an important threat to Internet security earlier this year. Phishers create fraudulent Web sites that resemble those of legitimate businesses in an attempt to collect personal information and banking details from unsuspecting users.
According to Microsoft the new filter will "proactively help protect the customer" when the customer enters a phishing site. The add-in uses "a dynamic system that quickly checks the Web pages customers visit" through an online service that is updated regularly. The filter will also block customers from entering personal data if the site is confirmed as suspicious, the company says.
The new filter uses three main techniques for identifying phishing sites; It compares addresses of Web sites a consumer attempts to visit with a list of reported legitimate sites that is stored on the consumer's computer and updated periodically, it analyses the sites that people seek to visit for characteristics common to phishing sites, and it provides an option to automatically send Web site addresses that a consumer attempts to visit to an online service run by Microsoft that checks the address against a frequently updated list of reported phishing sites.
The beta version of Microsoft Phishing Filter for MSN is available from http://addins.msn.com if you're based in the US.