IE Security Hole Exploited in Attack on Google
Article by George Norman
On 15 Jan 2010
Mountain View-based search engine giant Google recently announced that it is reviewing “the feasibility of [its] business operations in China for two reasons: China wants Google to keep censuring search results (while Google wants to stop censuring search results) and a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” was conducted on Google’s corporate infrastructure by hackers in China. The attack did not hit Google alone, it hit more than 20 other companies – the number of attacked companies, according to recent reports, is of about 34 companies, including Adobe.

Microsoft, the Redmond-based software giant issued a security advisory that warns users of a critical, obviously unpatched vulnerability in IE (Internet Explorer) 6, 7 and 8 on Windows 7, Vista, Windows XP, Server 2003, Server 2008 R2. What’s the big deal about that? Well, it seems this flaw has been used in the attack made public by Google.


“Based upon our investigations, we have determined that Internet Explorer was one of the vectors used in targeted and sophisticated attacks against Google and possibly other corporate networks. Microsoft issued guidance to help customers mitigate a Remote Code Execution (RCE) vulnerability in Internet Explorer. Additionally, we are cooperating with Google and other companies, as well as authorities and other industry partners. Microsoft remains committed to taking the appropriate action to help protect our customers. We released Security Advisory 979352 to provide customers with actionable guidance and tools to help with protections against exploit of this vulnerability,” announced Mike Reavey on behalf of the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC).

In the security advisory Microsoft describes the vulnerability as “an invalid pointer reference within Internet Explorer. It is possible under certain conditions for the invalid pointer to be accessed after an object is deleted. In a specially-crafted attack, in attempting to access a freed object, Internet Explorer can be caused to allow remote code execution.”

Reavey added that the vulnerability has been used in targeted and limited attacks; the company has not detected widespread customer impact. The IE team is working on an update that will plug this security hole and will release it as soon as possible.

The only good news is that the latest IE version, IE8 is better suited to handle attacks because it has DEP (Data Execution Prevention) enabled by default. Exploiting this recently discovered vulnerability is a lot more difficult with DEP turned on – which you might want to do if you’re using previous IE versions.

It should be noted that the vulnerability was not discovered by Microsoft, it was discovered by McAfee. You may remember the McAfee struck a deal with Facebook recently – out of this deal Facebook users get to use McAfee's Internet Security Suite software free of charge for 6 months.

UPDATE: An out-of-date patch has been released. You should receive a notification to patch IE if you have automatic updates turned on. Otherwise, you need to manually update IE.

Tags: Microsoft, Internet Explorer, IE, Security, Google, China, Attack
About the author: George Norman
George is a news editor.
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