The government has said that there is no evidence that upgrading web browsers will make users more secure, as it persists with Internet Explorer 6.

A recent petition signed by more than 6,000 people encouraged government departments to upgrade away from Internet Explorer 6.

Petition creator Dan Frydman of Inigo Media pointed to international moves away from the use of Internet Explorer 6, and said that the French and German governments have let their populations know that an upgrade will keep them safer online, and the UK should follow them.

The petition read: “When the UK government does this, most of Europe will follow. That will create some pressure on the US to do so too. Most creative and software development companies are forced by government department clients to build websites for IE6 when most of the industry has moved on.

“Companies insist that they need IE6 support because government departments use it and won't be able to see their sites or services without it. Upgrading would be a massive task for government, but if the public is encouraged to lead the way and the government follows, that would create the momentum needed.”

In response a government spokesperson said that the government takes internet security very seriously. They said: “Complex software will always have vulnerabilities and motivated adversaries will always work to discover and take advantage of them. There is no evidence that upgrading away from the latest fully patched versions of Internet Explorer to other browsers will make users more secure.

“Regular software patching and updating will help defend against the latest threats. The government continues to work with Microsoft and other internet browser suppliers to understand the security of the products used by HMG, including Internet Explorer and we welcome the work that Microsoft are continuing to do on delivering security solutions which are deployed as quickly as possible to all Internet Explorer users.”

A statement further read that each department is responsible for managing the risks to its IT systems based on Government Information Assurance policy and technical advice from CESG.

Part of this advice is that regular software patching and updating will help defend against the latest threats, and it is for individual departments to make the decision on how best to manage the risk based on this clear guidance. 

It said: “It is not straightforward for HMG departments to upgrade IE versions on their systems. Upgrading these systems to IE8 can be a very large operation, taking weeks to test and roll out to all users. To test all of the web applications currently used by HMG departments can take months at significant potential cost to the taxpayer.

“It is therefore more cost effective in many cases to continue to use IE6 and rely on other measures, such as firewalls and malware scanning software, to further protect public sector internet users.”