Internet Explorer 7 (IE 7) for Windows XP is finally out. Because it tries to fix or prevent many of the numerous security flaws that hit IE 6, it's arguably the largest bug fix we've seen in quite a while. For that reason alone, I recommend installing the update.
But IE 7 is not a panacea, in part because it still ties in to Windows for some of its work and can therefore pass along threats from buggy parts of the operating system (or other programs). We've seen a number of these types of problems recently, and now three more have been reported.
Less than a day after IE 7's release, Danish security firm Secunia said it had found a proof-of-concept, non-critical bug affecting IE 7. If you browse a malicious site while logged in to another site, an attacker could steal data you have on the logged-in site. Microsoft says the bug actually resides in Outlook Express, but IE 7 can be used as the attack vector, just like IE 6.
You're likewise vulnerable to a nasty, critical Windows bug involving XML, which is commonly used for Web sites and many document types, regardless of whether you use IE 6 or 7. Both versions hand off XML processing to Windows proper, where the bug originates. You could be infected with a drive-by download from a malicious Web site if an attacker directs a bunch of garbage data through IE to the newly discovered Windows weak spot. At press time no attacks had yet used this bug, but all currently supported versions of Windows could be hit. If you didn't receive the patch in Automatic Updates, head to www.microsoft.com/technet/security/Bulletin/ms06-061.mspx.
The new IE does offer more protection than version 6 for another pass-through critical Windows glitch -- one that has already proven to be a popular hacker target. This flaw hits the Windows Shell, which displays the Windows user interface. Attackers can employ an ActiveX control to reach the bug via IE (with yet another buffer overflow error) and thereby take over your system. As with the XML bug, all supported versions of Windows are affected.
IE 7 provides additional protection in this case because it displays an opt-in pop-up that requires your approval before running new ActiveX controls. The pop-up won't specifically tell you you're under attack, and if you just click OK as many people are now conditioned to do with many browser notices, you'll get nailed. But it's more protection than you'll get with IE 6, which on an unpatched system will download a malicious payload without warning if you browse a booby-trapped site. Get the fix from www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms06-057.mspx or via Automatic Updates.
Video iPods may come with Windows worm
A small number of video iPods picked up an unwelcome tag-along during manufacturing: a Windows worm. The malware doesn't harm the iPod, but once the device hooks up to a PC, the worm can silently wiggle its way into the system -- and from there to any linked external storage device, like a thumb drive.
Less than 1 per cent of video iPods shipped between September 12 and mid-October carry the worm, but if it infects a PC it can give an attacker full remote control. As a fix, Apple posted links to free trials of popular antivirus apps for cleaning affected computers, and says to use iTunes 7 to wipe and restore an iPod. Apple's bulletin is at www.apple.com/support/windowsvirus.
New Office holes
Hackers are using a new batch of critical Office 2000 flaws to bite credulous openers of suspicious e-mail attachments. The holes are less dangerous, but still present, in Office 2003. Keep Office updated through Automatic Updates, or grab the patches at www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms06-oct.mspx.
More battery heat
Sony is recalling some 3.5-million laptop batteries worldwide, including those used in its VAIO notebooks, as well as those in models from Fujitsu, Gateway and Toshiba, because of a minute (but real) risk of overheating and fire. For a full list of recalled models and links to makers' recall sites, visit www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml07/07011.html.