Homeland Security: Don't use IE due to bug

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The US Department of Homeland security is advising Americans not to use the Internet Explorer Web browser until a fix is found for a serious security flaw that came to light over the weekend of May3 to 4, 2014.

Internet_Explorer_LogoThe bug was announced on Saturday, May 3, 2014 by FireEye Research Labs, an Internet security software company based in Milpitas, Calif.

"We are currently unaware of a practical solution to this problem," the Department of Homeland Security's United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team said in a post on the morning of Monday, May 5, 2014.

It recommended that users and administrators "consider employing an alternative Web browser until an official update is available."

The security flaw allows malicious hackers to get around security protections in the Windows operating system. They then can be infected when visiting a compromised website.

Because the hack uses a corrupted Adobe Flash file to attack the victim's computer, users can avoid it by turning off Adobe Flash.

"The attack will not work without Adobe Flash," FireEye said. "Disabling the Flash plugin within IE will prevent the exploit from functioning." While the bug affects all versions of Internet Explorer 6 through 11 it is currently targeting IE9 and IE10, FireEye stated. The attacks do not appear to be widespread at this time. Microsoft said it was "aware of limited, targeted attacks that attempt to exploit" the vulnerability.

These are called "watering-hole attacks," said Satnam Narang, a threat researcher with computer security company Symantec in Mountain View, Calif.

Rather than directly reach out to a victim, the hackers inject their code into a "normal, everyday website" that the victim visits, he said. Code hidden on the site then infects their computers.

"It's called a watering-hole attack because if you're a lion, you go to the watering hole because you know that's where the animals go to drink." FireEye said the hackers exploiting the bug are calling their campaign "Operation Clandestine Fox."

Microsoft confirmed Saturday that it is working to fix the code that allows Internet Explorer versions 6 through 11 to be exploited by the vulnerability. As of Monday morning, no fix had been posted.

Microsoft typically releases security patches on the second Tuesday of each month, what's known as Patch Tuesday. The next one is Tuesday, May 14. Whether the company will release a patch for this vulnerability before that is not as yet known.

About 55% of PC computers run one of those versions of Internet Explorer, according to the technology research firm NetMarketShare. About 25% run either IE9 or IE10.

Computer users who are running the Windows XP operating system are out of luck. Microsoft discontinued support of the system on April 8.

Symantec is offering XP users tools to protect themselves, which it has made available on its blog.

The time it seems to take Microsoft to patch any vulnerabilities when they are discovered is, in my opinion, very worrying indeed as other browser developers seems to be much faster when it comes to problems.

While the Department of Homeland Security said that it recommends that users and administrators "consider employing an alternative Web browser until an official update is available" they they give no suggests therefore I will do so. Safer options to IE do exist. There is first of all Mozilla Firefox and then there is also Google Chrome and Opera and (1) those browsers are Open Source, predominately, such a Firefox for sure and Chrome is also based on Open Source with some Google specific code and (2) they are all, it would appear, far safer that Internet Explorer, which seems to have one serious problem after the other.

So, in order to protect your systems, I can but suggest to dump Internet Explorer into the nearest trash bin and to install, even on corporate systems, Mozilla Firefox or other safer browsers. We can all see that Microsoft does not really care as to what happens as it is now Wednesday, May 7, 2014 and no fix has, so far, been offered from the folks at Redmond.

© 2014