Microsoft sees 'huge increase' in IE attacks

Microsoft has warned of a "huge increase" in attacks exploiting a critical unpatched vulnerability in Internet Explorer (IE), and said some originated from hacked pornography sites.

Other researchers confirmed that attacks were increasingly coming from compromised Web sites.

Microsoft noted the upswing in attacks on the company's Malware Protection Center blog late Saturday. "The trend for now is going upwards," said researchers Ziv Mador and Tareq Saadecom on the blog. "We saw a huge increase in the number of reports today compared to yesterday."

Hackers have been exploiting a data binding bug in IE for more than a week , according to researchers who first noted in-the-wild attack code on Chinese servers . The vulnerability, which exists in all versions|Microsoft confirms that all versions of IE have critical new bug of the Microsoft browser, including IE5.01, IE6, IE7 and IE8 Beta 2, has so far been exploited only by attack code that targets IE7, the most widely-used edition.

Mador and Saadecom said that attacks are increasingly being launched from legitimate Web sites. "Some legitimate Web sites were maliciously modified to include the exploits," the two said. A popular Taiwanese search engine and a Hong Kong-based pornography site were among the sites hacked, then set up to attack visitors running IE.

Researchers at Trend Micro also reported a big increase in hacked sites serving exploits aimed at the new IE bug. On Saturday, the security firm estimated that about 6000 sites have been infected so far, noting that the count was "quickly increasing in number."

As in previous, large-scale attacks based on legitimate Web sites, this one involves hackers who execute SQL injection attacks to first compromise the site. In a SQL injection attack, hackers exploit vulnerabilities in Web applications that rely on a back-end database, which then gives them a way to add and run malicious code, usually rogue JavaScript, against any browser.

Microsoft acknowledged that attacks have become a significant problem. "Based on our stats, since the vulnerability has gone public, roughly 0.2% of users worldwide may have been exposed to websites containing exploits of this latest vulnerability," Mador and Saadecom said. "That percentage may seem low, however it still means that a significant number of users have been affected."

The move to legitimate, but hacked, sites is a change in tactics. As recently as Thursday, attacks were coming only from malicious sites, most of them in China. Even then, however, Microsoft had warned that hackers would probably expand the scope of their attacks by compromising valid sites.

In related news, Microsoft said it was working on a patch for IE, although it has still not said when it would issue the update. Some researchers expect the company to release a fix outside Microsoft's normal monthly schedule; the next security updates aren't due until Jan. 9, 2009. Microsoft also revised its security advisory for a third time Saturday, adding more information about the recommended actions users should take until a patch is available. The company has offered up a total of nine different workarounds for IE users, several of which require editing of the Windows registry, a chore most users assiduously avoid.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Microsoft

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?