Microsoft announced this week that Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) has now blocked a billion malware downloads since its release last year.

The disclosure came in a post to Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Exploring IE blog Monday.

According to the blog post, the technology credits go to Microsoft's SmartScreen Filter technology, which comes built into IE8.

"The SmartScreen team just informed me that we've reached an amazing milestone -- Internet Explorer 8 has blocked 1 billion attempts to download malware," James Pratt, senior product manager on the Internet Explorer team, said in the post.

That's a billion attempted downloads blocked in only 16 months. IE8 shipped in March 2009.

A billion is a big jump since about this time last year.

"In August 2009, we had blocked about 70 million attempts to download malware or about 18 million blocks per month," Pratt's post said.

SmartScreen Filter is an evolution of Microsoft's phishing filter, which was introduced in IE7. The technology works by checking sites against a database of blacklisted sites.

Pratt credited increased use of IE8 as one of the reasons why the numbers have grown so large so quickly.

According to Web analytics firm, Net Applications, IE8's usage share among all browsers, including earlier releases of IE, has burgeoned from 15.1 percent in August to 25.84 percent in June.

Additionally, IE7 dropped in usage from 21.1 percent to 11.79 in the same time period, while IE6 fell from 25.25 percent to 17.17 percent.

SmartScreen filtering got its start as part of Microsoft's multi-layered security defense against phishing attacks several years ago, a company spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mail.

"The first layer is at the source in e-mail with SmartScreen filtering and new warning features in Windows Live Mail, MSN Hotmail, Microsoft Office Outlook 2003/2007 and Microsoft Exchange server 2003 SP2 and 2007," the spokesperson said.

"The second layer of protection against phishing is the SmartScreen Filter [in IE8]," the spokesperson added.

Given all the plaudits for SmartScreen in IE8, however, Microsoft has yet to reveal whether or not the next release of IE, codenamed IE9 and due out next year, will include the technology.

Microsoft released the second technical preview of IE9 in May.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.