Fix old flaws to stop new attacks

Making sure you've fixed these old security holes will go a long way towards keeping your PC safe from current attacks.

In further confirmation that Internet crooks tend to grab for the low-hanging fruit, a new Microsoft report reveals that the most common browser-based attacks tend to go after old software flaws. Making sure you've closed those holes can go a long way towards keeping your PC safe.

Browser-based exploits form the basis for some of the sneakiest and most dangerous attacks out there today. Crooks insert hidden attack code on a hijacked Web site that searches for a software vulnerability whenever anyone views the poisoned site. If the attack code finds a flaw, it will attempt to surreptitiously download and install a Trojan or other malicious software. If an antivirus app doesn't manage to catch it, the malware gets installed with nary a clue for the hapless victim.

These drive-by-download attacks sometimes go after the latest software flaws, but as revealed by Microsoft's new Security Intelligence Report v7, most of the attacks against Windows XP go after old Windows and third-party software flaws going as far back as 2006. Of the top 10 attacks, only one was from 2009. That's good news, since it means that basic maintenance and security measures will go a long way towards keeping your PC safe.

These are the most common browser-based exploits, as determined from Microsoft's analysis of "data from customer-reported incidents, submissions of malicious code, and Microsoft Windows error reports."

Third-party software:

- flaw in Adobe Acrobat and Reader
- WinZip
- QuickTime
- Adobe Reader

Windows holes:

- Microsoft Office Snapshot Viewer
- Internet Explorer
- Internet Explorer
- Internet Explorer
- Microsoft Data Access Components
- Microsoft VML

The names here tell when the flaw was discovered (MS06 = 2006, for example), and as you can see, crooks love the golden oldies. Many of these attacks probably go after pirated Windows installs that never get updates.

Enabling Automatic updates in Windows will guard from attacks against any of the listed Windows flaws, and to protect against the third-party software flaws, make sure you have the latest software versions available. For vulnerable older software such as the vulnerable, three-year-old WinZip, that might require a manual version check and update. Or you can take the easy route and use the free Secunia PSI software, which will scan your system for outdated vulnerable software and provide simple links to update it.

For Vista attacks, only one of the most common exploits listed went after a Windows flaw (Internet Explorer). The rest targeted third-party software such as Adobe Reader or RealPlayer, with old flaws again providing a common target. As with XP, running Automatic updates and Secunia PSI should safeguard any PC from the most common exploits.

Another good protection step is to apply the patch to turn off AutoRun for USB drives. As noted by the Washington Post, Microsoft's report also shows that some of the most common malware will infect thumb drives and wait to be connected to another PC. When that happens, the malware takes advantage of AutoRun to run automatically and attempt to infect the new PC.

A Microsoft patch -- which doesn't distribute via Automatic Updates, per the Washington Post -- will turn off AutoRun for USB drives and guard against this infection vector. You'll need to download and install this patch yourself.

And finally, for other simple security steps that can go a long way towards keeping you safe, see The Five Most Dangerous Security Myths.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securitymicrosoft patchessecurity patch

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

Erik Larkin

PC World (US online)
Show Comments



Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?