Posts Tagged: internet explorer


1
Oct 12

In a Zero-Day World, It’s Active Attacks that Matter

The recent zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer caused many (present company included) to urge Internet users to consider surfing the Web with a different browser until Microsoft issued a patch. Microsoft did so last month, but not before experts who ought to have known better began downplaying such advice, pointing out that other browser makers have more vulnerabilities and just as much exposure to zero-day flaws.

This post examines hard data that shows why such reasoning is more emotional than factual. Unlike Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox users, IE users were exposed to active attacks against unpatched, critical vulnerabilities for months at a time over the past year and a half.

Attackers exploited zero-day holes in Internet Explorer for at least 89 days over the past 19 months.

The all-browsers-are-equally-exposed argument was most recently waged by Trend Micro‘s Rik Ferguson. Ferguson charges that it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect IE users to switch — however briefly — to experiencing the Web with an alternative browser. After all, he says, the data show that other browsers are similarly dogged by flaws, and switching offers no additional security benefits. To quote Ferguson:

“According to this blog post, in 2011 Google’s Chrome had an all time high of 275 new vulnerabilities reported, the current peak of an upward trend since its day of release. Mozilla Firefox, while currently trending down from its 2009 high, still had a reported 97 vulnerabilities. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has been trending gradually down for the past five years and 2011 saw only 45 new vulnerabilities, less than any other browser except Apple’s Safari, which also had 45. Of course raw numbers of vulnerabilities are almost meaningless unless we consider the respective severity, but there again, of the ‘big three’ the statistics favour Internet Explorer. If zero-day vulnerabilities have to be taken into consideration too, they don’t really do much to change the balance, Google Chrome 6, Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and Mozilla Firefox 4. Of course different sources offer completely different statistics, and simple vulnerability counts are no measure of relative (in)security of browsers, particularly in isolation. However, it cannot be ignored that vulnerabilities exist in every browser.”

Looking closer, we find that this assessment does not hold water. For one thing, while Ferguson acknowledges that attempting to rate the relative security of similar software products by merely comparing vulnerabilities is not very useful, he doesn’t offer much more perspective. He focuses on unpatched, publicly-highlighted vulnerabilities, but he forgets to ask and answer a crucial question: How do browser makers rate in terms of unpatched vulnerabilities that are actively being exploited?

Part of the problem here is that many security pundits rank vulnerabilities as “zero-day” as long as they are both publicly identified and unfixed. Whether there is evidence that anyone is actually attacking these vulnerabilities seems beside the point for this camp. But I would argue active exploitation is the most important qualifier of a true zero-day, and that the software flaws most worthy of worry and action by users are those that are plainly being exploited by attackers.

To that end, I looked back at the vulnerabilities fixed since January 2011 by Google, Microsoft and Mozilla, with an eye toward identifying true zero-day flaws that were identified publicly as being exploited before the vendor issued a software patch. I also queried both Mozilla and Google to find out if I had missed anything in my research.

As Ferguson mentioned, all browser makers had examples over the past 19 months of working or proof-of-concept exploit code available for unpatched flaws in their products. However, both my own investigation and the public record show that of the three browsers, Internet Explorer was the only one that had critical, unpatched vulnerabilities that were demonstrably exploited by attackers before patches were made available. According to Microsoft’s own account, there were at least six zero-days actively exploited in the past 18 months in IE. All but one of them earned Microsoft’s most dire “critical” rating, leaving IE users under zero-day attack for at least 152 days since the beginning of 2011.

If we count just the critical zero-days, there were at least 89 non-overlapping days (about three months) between the beginning of 2011 and Sept. 2012 in which IE zero-day vulnerabilities were actively being exploited. That number is almost certainly conservative, because I could find no data on the window of vulnerability for CVE-2011-0094, a critical zero-day flaw fixed in MS11-018 that Microsoft said was being attacked prior to releasing a patch for it. This analysis also does not include CVE-2011-1345, a vulnerability demonstrated at the Pwn2Pwn contest in 2011.

Continue reading →


21
Sep 12

Microsoft Fixes Zero-Day, Four Other Flaws in IE

Microsoft has released an emergency update for Internet Explorer that fixes at least five vulnerabilities in the default Web browser on Windows, including a zero-day flaw that miscreants have been using to break into vulnerable systems.

The patch, MS12-063, is available through Windows Update or via Automatic Update. If you installed the stopgap “fix it” tool that Microsoft released earlier this week to blunt the threat from the zero-day bug, you need not reverse or remove that fix it before applying this update. The vulnerability resides in IE 7, 8, and 9, on nearly all supported versions of Windows, apart from certain installations of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012.

Separately, Microsoft issued an update for vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player in Internet Explorer 10 on all supported versions of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. The update addresses the vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player by updating the affected Adobe Flash libraries contained within Internet Explorer 10. Adobe addressed these in two separate Flash updates last month, including a fix for Flash zero-day that has been under active attack.


10
Jul 12

Microsoft Patches Zero-Day Bug & 15 Other Flaws

Microsoft today issued a security patch to fix a zero-day vulnerability in Windows that hackers have been exploiting to break into vulnerable systems. The company also addressed at least 15 other flaws in its software, and urged customers to quit using the desktop Sidebar and Gadget capabilities offered in Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

By far the most urgent of the updates is MS12-043, which fixes a critical vulnerability in Microsoft XML Core Services that miscreants and malware alike have been using to break into vulnerable systems. Microsoft had already warned about limited, targeted attacks using this flaw, but late last month an exploit built to attack the XML bug was added to the BlackHole Exploit Kit, an automated browser exploit tool that is very popular in the criminal underground right now.

Other critical patch bundles include a fix for a dangerous flaw in the Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) of Windows, and an update to address a pair of vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. Continue reading →


12
Jun 12

Microsoft Patches 26 Flaws, Warns of Zero-Day Attack

Microsoft today released updates to plug at least 26 separate security holes in its Windows operating systems and related software. At the same time, Microsoft has issued a stopgap fix for a newly-discovered flaw that attackers are actively exploiting.

The security fixes are included in seven security patch bundles, three of which earned Microsoft’s most dire “critical” label, signifying that attackers can exploit them without any help on the part of the user.  Redmond patched vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Dynamics AX, Microsoft Lync (Microsoft’s enterprise instant message software), and the Microsoft .NET Framework.

Microsoft called out two patches as particularly important: the Internet Explorer bundle (MS12-037), which addresses 13 issues; and a critical flaw in the Windows remote desktop protocol (RDP). Updates are available for all supported versions of Windows, via Windows Update or Automatic Update. Continue reading →


21
May 12

Adware Stages Comeback Via Browser Extensions

The Wikimedia Foundation last week warned that readers who are seeing ads on Wikipedia articles are likely using a Web browser that has been infected with malware. The warning points to an apparent resurgence in adware and spyware that is being delivered via cleverly disguised browser extensions designed to run across multiple Web browsers and operating systems.

An ad served by IWantThis! browser extension. Source: Wikimedia

In a posting on its blog, Wikimedia noted that although the nonprofit organization is funded by more than a million donors and does not run ads, some users were complaining of seeing ads on Wikipedia entries. “If you’re seeing advertisements for a for-profit industry (see screenshot below for an example) or anything but our fundraiser, then your web browser has likely been infected with malware,” reads a blog post co-written by Philippe Beaudette, director of community advocacy at the Wikimedia Foundation.

The blog post named one example of a browser extension called “IWantThis!,” which is essentially spyware masquerading as adware. The description at the IWantThis! Web site makes it sound like a harmless plugin that occasionally overlays ads on third-party Web sites and helps users share product or online shopping wish lists with others. As I was researching this extension, I came across this helpful description of it at the DeleteMalware Blog, which points to the broad privacy policy that ships with this extension:

Examples of the information we may collect and analyze when you use our website include the IP address used to connect your computer to the Internet; login; e-mail address; password; computer and connection information such as browser type, version, and time zone setting, browser plug-in types and versions, operating system, and platform; the full Uniform Resource Locator (URL) clickstream to, through, and from the Site, including date and time; cookie; web pages you viewed or searched for; and the phone number you used to call us. Continue reading →


17
May 12

Facebook Takes Aim at Cross-Browser ‘LilyJade’ Worm

Facebook is attempting to nip in the bud a new social networking worm that spreads via an application built to run seamlessly as a plugin across multiple browsers and operating systems. In an odd twist, the author of the program is doing little to hide his identity, and claims that his “users” actually gain a security benefit from installing the software.

At issue is a program that the author calls “LilyJade,” a browser plugin that uses Crossrider, an emerging programming framework designed to simplify the process of writing plugins that will run on Google ChromeInternet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox.  The plugin spreads by posting a link to a video on a user’s Facebook wall, and friends who follow the link are told they need to accept the installation of the plugin in order to view the video. Users who install LilyJade will have their accounts modified to periodically post links that help pimp the program.

The goal of LilyJade is to substitute code that specifies who should get paid when users click on ads that run on top Internet properties, such as Facebook.com, Yahoo.com, Youtube.com, Bing.com, Google.com and MSN.com. In short, the plugin allows customers to swap in their own ads on virtually any site that users visit.

I first read about LilyJade in an analysis published earlier this month by Russian security firm Kaspersky Labs, and quickly recognized the background from the screenshot included in that writeup as belonging to user from hackforums.net. This is a relatively open online hacking community that is often derided by more elite and established underground forums because it has more than its share of adolescent, novice hackers (a.k.a. “script kiddies”) who are eager to break onto the scene, impress peers, and make money.

It turns out that the Hackforums user who is selling this plugin is doing so openly using his real name. Phoenix, Ariz. based hacker Dru Mundorff sells the LilyJade plugin for $1,000 to fellow Hackforums members. Mundorff, 29, says he isn’t worried about the legalities of his offering; he’s even had his attorney sign off on the terms of service that each user is required to agree to before installing it.

“We’re not forcing any users to be bypassed, exploited or anything like that,” Mundorff said in a phone interview.  “At that point, if they do agree, it will allow us to make posts on their wall through our system.”

Mundorff claims his software is actually a benefit to Facebook and the Internet community at large because it is designed to also remove infections from some of the more popular bot and Trojan programs currently for sale on Hackforums, including Darkcomet, Cybergate, Blackshades and Andromeda (the latter being a competitor to the password-stealing ZeuS Trojan that hides behind Facebook comments). Mundorff maintains that his plugin will result in a positive experience for the average Facebook user, although he acknowledges that customers who purchase LilyJade can modify at will the link that “users” are forced to spread, and may at any time swap in links to malware or exploit sites. Continue reading →


4
May 12

Critical Flash Update Fixes Zero-day Flaw

Adobe Systems Inc. today issued a security update to its Flash Player software. The company stressed that the update fixes a critical vulnerability that malicious actors have been using in targeted attacks.

Adobe classifies a security flaw as critical if it can be used to break into vulnerable machines without any help from users. The company said the vulnerability (CVE-2012-0779) fixed in the version released today has been exploited in targeted attacks designed to trick the user into clicking on a malicious file delivered in an email message, and that the exploit used in the attacks seen so far target Flash Player on Internet Explorer for Windows only.

Nevertheless, there are updates available for Flash Player versions designed for all operating systems that Adobe supports, including Mac, Linux and Android devices.

Continue reading →


10
Apr 12

Adobe, Microsoft Issue Critical Updates

Adobe and Microsoft today each issued critical updates to plug security holes in their products. The patch batch from Microsoft fixes at least 11 flaws in Windows and Windows software. Adobe’s update tackles four vulnerabilities that are present in current versions of Adobe Acrobat and Reader.

Seven of the 11 bugs Microsoft fixed with today’s release earned its most serious “critical” rating, which Microsoft assigns to flaws that it believes attackers or malware could leverage to break into systems without any help from users. In its security bulletin summary for April 2012, Microsoft says it expects miscreants to quickly develop reliable exploits capable of leveraging at least four of the vulnerabilities. Continue reading →


11
Oct 11

Critical Security Updates from Microsoft, Apple

Microsoft and Apple today released security updates to fix a slew of critical security problems in their software. Microsoft’s patch batch fixes at least 23 vulnerabilities in Windows and other Microsoft products. Apple’s update addresses more than 75 security flaws in the Windows versions of iTunes.

Nine of the 23 flaws Microsoft fixed with patches today are rated “critical,” meaning attackers could exploit them to break into vulnerable systems with little or no help from users. Eight of the nine critical bugs are in Internet Explorer. The remaining critical flaw is corrected in an update for the .NET Framework. Three of the vulnerabilities fixed with these updates were disclosed publicly prior to today, including a flaw in Windows Media Center that Microsoft believes crooks are likely to soon figure out how to reliably exploit.

The iTunes update brings the music player software to version 10.5, and is available for Microsoft systems running Windows 7, Vista, XP SP2 and later. Two new features of iTunes deserve mentioning: Apple says iPhone and iPad users who upgrade to iOS 5 when it is released later this week will be able to sync with iTunes wirelessly. More importantly from an update perspective, Apple has at long last untethered iTunes from QuickTime.

Continue reading →


15
Jun 11

Microsoft Patches Fix 34 Security Flaws

Microsoft on Tuesday released 16 software updates to fix at least 34 security vulnerabilities in its Windows operating systems and other software. More than half of the updates address flaws Microsoft rates “critical,” meaning the bugs can be exploited with little to no user interaction.

For organizations that need to test patches before deploying them, Microsoft said four of the updates deserve priority:

  • MS11-042 (DFS). This bulletin resolves two privately reported issues affecting all versions of Windows.
  • MS11-043 (SMB Client). This bulletin resolves one privately reported issue affecting all versions of SMB Client on Windows.
  • MS11-050 (Internet Explorer). This security bulletin resolves 11 privately reported issues in Internet Explorer.
  • MS11-052 (Windows). This bulletin resolves one privately reported issue in Windows and is also Critical.

Another update, labeled “important,” fixes at least eight security problems in all versions of Microsoft Excel, including Office for Mac.

More information on this week’s updates is available at this summary. Updates are available from Windows Update and via Automatic Updates. You may want to set aside some time for this update package: Among the critical patches is an update for Microsoft’s .NET software, and .NET updates are typically bulky. If you experience problems after applying any of the updates, please leave a note about it in the comments below.