Microsoft warns on IE security flaw

2012-09-18 08:25

Boston - Microsoft warned a newly discovered bug in its Internet Explorer web browser makes PCs vulnerable to attack by hackers and urged customers to download a piece of security software to mitigate the risk of infection.

The security flaw affects hundreds of millions of Internet Explorer browser users. Microsoft said attackers can exploit the bug to infect the PC of somebody who visits a malicious website and then take control of the victim's computer.

The software maker advised customers on its website late on Monday to install the security software as an interim measure, buying it time to fix the bug and release a new, more secure version of Internet Explorer. The company did not say how long that will take, but several security researchers said they expect the update within a week.

The free security tool, which is known as the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit, or Emet, is available through an advisory on Microsoft's website.

The Emet software must be downloaded, installed and then manually configured to protect computers from the newly discovered threat, according to the posting from Microsoft. The company also advised customers to adjust several Windows security settings to thwart potential attackers, but cautioned that doing so might impact the PC's usability.


Some security experts said it would be too cumbersome for many PC users to implement the measures suggested by Microsoft. Instead, they advised Windows users to temporarily switch from Internet Explorer to rival browsers such as Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox or Opera Software ASA's Opera .

"For consumers it might be easier to simply click on Chrome," said Dave Marcus, director of advanced research and threat intelligence with Intel Corp's McAfee security division.

Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer of the security firm BeyondTrust, said it may not be feasible for some businesses to install Microsoft's Emet tool on their PCs.

He said the security software has in some cases proven to be incompatible with existing programs already running on networks.

Tod Beardsley, an engineering manager with the security firm Rapid7, said that at first blush it appeared that the Emet may not be particularly effective in thwarting potential attacks.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on the scepticism that those security experts expressed about the effectiveness of the Emet software.

Eric Romang, a researcher in Luxembourg, discovered the flaw in Internet Explorer on Friday, when his PC was infected by a piece of malicious software known as Poison Ivy that hackers use to steal data or take remote control of PCs.

Unknown bug

When he analysed the infection, he learned that Poison Ivy had exploited a previously unknown bug on his system, or "zero-day" vulnerability, in Internet Explorer.

"Any time you see a zero-day like this, it is concerning," said Liam O Murchu, a research manager with anti-virus software maker Symantec. "There are no patches available. It is very difficult for people to protect themselves."

Zero-day vulnerabilities are rare, mostly because they are hard to identify - requiring highly skilled software engineers or hackers with lots of time to scrutinise code for holes that can be exploited to launch attacks. Security experts only disclosed discovery of eight major zero-day vulnerabilities in all of 2011, according to Symantec.

Symantec and other major anti-virus software makers have already updated their products to protect customers against the newly discovered bug in Internet Explorer. Yet, O Murchu said that may not be sufficient to ward off adversaries.

"The danger with these types of attacks is that they will mutate and the attackers will find a way to evade the defences we have in place," he said.

Internet Explorer was the world's second-most widely used browser in August, with about 33% market share, according to StatCounter. It was close behind Chrome, which had 34% of the market.

  • ben.louw.5 - 2012-09-18 08:50

    No surprise there... Biggest software company in the world still bringing out the worst browser in the world... The only time you use IE is to download Chrome or Firefox.

      ben.louw.5 - 2012-09-18 09:27

      Yeah Sam you're right. Screw my 11 years of experience in the field..

      marius.roets.5 - 2012-09-18 09:38

      Well it is kind of obvious, hackers will not target Chrome or Firefox browsers when they know 90% of the world is using Internet Explorer that would be just a waste of their time, spending hours and hours trying to find a exploit for Firefox when 1 out of 5 people are using it.

      ben.louw.5 - 2012-09-18 10:10

      Hardly 90%

      marius.roets.5 - 2012-09-18 10:22

      @Ben - Yes I got a bit dramatic trying to get my point across certainly not 90%, However Microsoft is still the most targeted Software company by hackers because of it's big market share and you should know that with you 11 years of experience in the field. - 2012-09-18 10:37

      Micro$oft is for your old man!!. It served its purpose and now lets all move on and let Mirco$oft die with dignity. Ubuntu for desktops/Centos for Servers

  • Simon - 2012-09-18 08:58

    IE is the best browser to find another browser

  • - 2012-09-18 09:09

    Does anyone still use IE?

      ben.louw.5 - 2012-09-18 09:19

      Sad to say...Yes...Everybody that doesn't know anything about computers.

      lacrimose.wolf - 2012-09-18 13:24

      Even worse, one of our corporate clients is still using IE6!

  • greg.quinn.353 - 2012-09-18 09:24

    IE ?? Do people even still use that? I remember something about it about 15 years back when the internet was starting to boom.

  • barend.wasserman - 2012-09-18 10:13

    Use Firefox instead.

  • Dawn Campbell Gibson - 2012-09-18 10:32

    Use linux. No more MS bugs.

  • pages:
  • 1