Unpatched IE hole a gold mine for hackers

A long ignored security hole in Microsoft's Internet Explorer is proving to be a gold mine for hackers, providing an easy way for them to plant malicious programs on vulnerable machines through hacker Web sites and instant messaging applications, security experts warn.

New attacks using the vulnerability include a worm that spreads through America Online's Instant Messenger (AIM) and a malicious Web site that silently loads snooping software on victims' machines, according to independent security expert Richard Smith.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The security hole, known as the "Object Data vulnerability," is in software code used by IE to process HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) pages containing an element called the Object Data tag. When properly exploited, the vulnerability enables an attacker to place a malicious computer program on a user's machine. No user actions are required to infect a machine, aside from opening an e-mail message or visiting a Web page rigged by an attacker.

Microsoft issued a software patch, MS03-032, on August 20 that was supposed to fix the problem. However, that patch failed to close the hole on Windows machines running Internet Explorer (IE) versions 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0.

On September 8, Microsoft acknowledged problems with the MS03-032 patch and promised to issue a fix as soon as possible. Since that time, no changes have been made to the MS03-032 patch. In the succeeding weeks, hackers moved quickly to take advantage of Redmond's slow response.

Recent exploits of the Object Data vulnerability include a virus that spreads over the AIM network, stealing users' account names and passwords then mailing links to a malicious hacker Web site to the victim's AIM correspondents (or "buddies"), Smith said.

Although the Web site associated with that threat has been removed, users who received and clicked on an infected instant message could have had their AIM account hijacked, according to Smith.

The vulnerability also cropped up in an e-mail message containing HTML code that exploits the vulnerability. When opened, the message installs a file called "surferbar.dll" onto the victim's computer with links to pornographic Web sites, according to security company Secunia of Copenhagen, Denmark.

While some of the new attacks are targeting holes in the MS3-032 patch, others may just be targeting users who have not applied the patch at all, Smith said. Short of issuing an updated patch that closed the hole, Microsoft should at least update its bulletin with a widely known workaround that closes the security hole, Smith said.

That fix, developed by a researcher at eEye Digital Security requires a small change to the Windows configuration that does not appear to affect any Windows features, but would protect users from attack, he said.

In the meantime, hackers will continue to take advantage of the Object Data vulnerability, which is easy to exploit and powerful, he said. "The sky's the limit of what you can do with (the Object Data vulnerability). This exploit is going to be used for years," Smith said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Roberts

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

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.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

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?