Microsoft plans to release an add-on to its MSN Search Toolbar aimed at protecting users from phishing scams. The technology is similar to an anti-phishing tool the company previously said will be available in IE7 (Internet Explorer 7.0), which is not yet in public release.

So-called phishing attacks attempt to trick users into entering personal information, such as bank details or passwords, on fake websites.

The phishing filter – which issues a pop-up window warning if a user navigates to a website that exhibits behaviour typical of phishing sites, and blocks access to currently recognised phishing sites – will be available for IE 6.0 running on Windows XP SP2, said Justin Osner, product manager for MSN Search.

The technology will be available in test release in a few weeks from, but Osner could not give a more specific time frame for the beta release, or a subsequent production release of the filter. The technology may eventually end up as a permanent feature of the MSN Search Toolbar, but that has yet to be determined, he said.

Published reports on Wednesday said that the phishing filter that is expected to be included in IE7 would soon be released as a download to the MSN Search Toolbar for use with IE 6.0. However, these reports are only partly true, Osner said in an interview yesterday.

In IE7, the phishing filter "is part of the whole menu bar structure" across the top of the browser, whereas the add-in that will be available for IE 6 "will obviously be connected to the toolbar", he said.

"The opportunity with Toolbar is to provide the folks with IE 6.0 the phishing-filter technology because we want to reach as many people as we can," Osner said.

Though they appear differently in the interface, both incarnations of the phishing filter will block phishing sites in much the same way, he added.

The MSN Search Toolbar phishing filter add-in can be disabled if a user wants to gain access to a site that is recognised by the filter as potentially dangerous, Osner said.

Microsoft introduced the MSN Search Toolbar in May as a free download. It runs below the web address box in IE and allows users to search and organise website preferences.

Industry analysts see IE's reputation for poor security as one of the reasons the open-source Firefox browser has risen in popularity over the past year. Third-party anti-phishing technology is currently available for Firefox.

Microsoft's plan to release its technology to combat phishing to the market before IE7 is fully baked is a good competitive move for the vendor, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director for Jupiter Research.

Rolling it into the MSN Search Toolbar also could help the company win some footing in the search market against rivals Google and Yahoo, he added.