Microsoft IE Zero-Day Flaw Exposure Widens

There is still no official patch from Microsoft as weaponized exploits for Internet Explorer begin to appear, but there is a simple step that enterprise users can take to mitigate the risk.

Two weeks ago, Microsoft first warned its users that it was investigating public reports about a zero-day vulnerability in its Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser. It's a vulnerability that still has not been patched in a full update and is now actively being exploited by attackers.

In response to an inquiry from eWEEK about the issue, Microsoft declined to provide any specific timing about when a full patch for the issue, now known as CVE-2013-3893, would be available.

"We are aware of a limited number of targeted attacks; customers who have installed the Fix It are not at risk from this issue," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We encourage customers who have not applied the Fix It provided by Security Advisory 2887505 to do so to help ensure they are protected as we continue work on a security update."

The Fix It is a "Band-Aid" approach to the security issue, providing a fix for users who physically visit the Fix It site and click the Fix It button. A full patch, in contrast, is made available to all Microsoft users through the Windows Update mechanism that all Windows users have access to and many users have set for fully automated patching.

Ken Pickering, director of engineering at CORE Security, told eWEEK that there are already at least four advanced persistent threats (APTs) known to be using the CVE-2013-3893 attack as part of their spearphishing campaigns on prospective targets. Spearphishing is a form of targeted fake email (phishing) attack. The fact that the vulnerability is being actively exploited should merit an emergency response from Microsoft, Pickering added.

"Realistically, people should avoid using IE if possible until the patch for this fix is released," he suggested.

Adding further fuel to the fire is the fact that the CVE-2013-3893 vulnerability has now been weaponized inside of the open-source Metasploit penetration testing framework. Metasploit is a popular tool used by security researchers to conduct security analysis. Security researchers have been landing Microsoft zero-day flaws in Metasploit as they pop up since at least 2005.

The fact that CVE-2013-3893 is now in Metasploit compounds the impact of the issue, according to Pickering.

"I personally believe in responsible release of exploits, giving the vendor time to appropriately patch the problem rather than making the situation even worse by giving unskilled attackers the capability to abuse this zero-day," Pickering said. "Even in this case where the exploit is publicly disclosed, including it in any framework before Microsoft has had a chance to roll something out can potentially make the situation much worse."

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.