France and Germany have advised their citizens to ditch Internet Explorer in the wake of reports that an IE zero-day bug was involved in the massive cyber-attack against Google and other companies.
Officials in both countries issued warnings in the past few days telling users to consider switching from Internet Explorer to other Web browsers until Microsoft delivers a patch. Researchers at McAfee have reported seeing references to attack code for the vulnerability on mailing lists and confirmed the presence of the code on at least one Website.
The IE vulnerability was used in a spate of cyber-attacks targeting Google and other large corporate networks. The attacks, which are believed to have come from China, have prompted Google to threaten to pull out of China altogether, and the U.S. State Department plans to get answers from Chinathis week regarding the incident.
Officials at Microsoft said they are only seeing a limited number of targeted attacks against a small subset of corporations.
"The attacks that we have seen to date, including public proof-of-concept exploit code, are only effective against Internet Explorer 6," according to George Stathakopoulos,
general manager of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Security group. "Based on a rigorous analysis of multiple sources, we are not aware of any successful attacks against IE7 and IE8 at this time. ... We are not seeing any widespread attacks by any means, and thus far we are not seeing attacks focused on consumers."
According to Microsoft, the vulnerability exists as an invalid pointer reference within IE. Under certain conditions, the invalid pointer can be accessed after an object is deleted, the company's advisory states.
"In a Web-based attack scenario, an attacker could host a Web site that contains a Web page that is used to exploit this vulnerability," the Microsoft advisory continues. "In addition, compromised Web sites and Web sites that accept or host user-provided content or advertisements could contain specially crafted content that could exploit this vulnerability. In all cases, however, an attacker would have no way to force users to visit these Web sites. Instead, an attacker would have to convince users to visit the Web site, typically by getting them to click a link in an e-mail message or Instant Messenger message that takes users to the attacker's Web site."
The company urged users of Internet Explorer 6 or 7 to update to Version 8, the most current edition of the browser, rather than ditch IE altogether. Users are also advised to set Internet and local intranet security zones to "high" to prompt before running ActiveX controls and active scripting in these zones. In addition, IE can be configured to disable active scripting. Instructions for doing that can be found in the advisory.
As a tactical move to avoid this particular attack, switching to another browser makes sense, Gartner analyst John Pescatore told eWEEK. However, in the long term, "you'd be saying, -Don't use any browser that will have unpatched vulnerabilities,' and you would not be able to use any browser-or any software, for that matter.
"IE6 should have been abandoned long ago-saying, "Don't use IE6" is a good idea, same about older versions of Firefox [or other browsers]," he said.