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A popular browser for Windows is subject to a security hole that creates a means for hackers to run malicious code on vulnerable machines. But this time, the vulnerability involves Mozilla and Firefox browsers - not Internet Explorer.

Security researchers have discovered that users could be attacked by hackers using a bug in how Mozilla and Firefox handle the "shell:" function in windows. The function enables websites to invoke various programs associated with specific extensions. But flaws in Mozilla's implementation create a way for a skilled hacker to execute arbitrary code on vulnerable Windows machines. Information on the bug was posted onto a full disclosure security mailing list earlier this week.

The flaw affects Mozilla and Firefox on Windows XP or Windows 2000 only.

The Mozilla Foundation yesterday issued a patch that resolves the flaw by disabling the use of the shell: external protocol handler. Alternatively users are advised are advised to update their systems to the latest version of Mozilla (1.7.1), Firefox (0.9.2). Users of Thunderbird, Mozilla's next generation e-mail client, also need to upgrade to version 0.7.2 of the software. Firefox is a preview of Mozilla's next generation browser. Thunderbird is Mozilla's email client.

Security firm Secunia rates the problem as "moderately critical". So it’s less serious than still unresolved issues bedevilling IE but still unwelcome to Windows users defecting from IE for security reasons. Secunia notes that multiple exploits in Internet Explorer also utilise "shell:" functionality. "The shell: URI handler is inherently insecure and should only be accessed from a few trusted sites - or not from a browser at all," it says. ®

External links

Mozilla Foundation advisory

Related stories

IE workaround a non-starter
HP issues apocalyptic Netscape HP-UX warning
CERT recommends anything but IE

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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