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UK.gov unmoved by Internet Explorer 6 security concerns

Google, NHS cast off exploited browser

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Google and the NHS may soon be ditching support for Internet Explorer 6, but that hasn’t stopped UK government officials from declaring the browser doesn’t give them cause for concern, unlike their French and German counterparts.

On Friday Google - which was recently the victim of a high-profile attack from hackers understood to be based in China, who exploited code in IE6 - confirmed plans to dump support for old browsers.

From 1 March, Mountain View will turn its back on IE6 for good.

“Many other companies have already stopped supporting older browsers like Internet Explorer 6 as well as browsers that are not supported by their own manufacturers,” noted Google.

“We’re also going to begin phasing out our support, starting with Google Docs and Google Sites. As a result, you may find that from March 1 key functionality within these products - as well as new Docs and Sites features - won’t work properly in older browsers.”

Meanwhile, Lord West of Spithead, who is the parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Home Office, confirmed last week that the UK government was unconcerned about IE’s security flaws.

“Complex software will always have vulnerabilities and motivated adversaries will always work to discover and take advantage of them,” he said in response to a question tabled by Lord Avebury.

“We take internet security very seriously and we have worked with Microsoft and other suppliers over many years to understand the security of the products used by HMG, including Internet Explorer.

“There is no evidence that moving from the latest fully patched versions of Internet Explorer to other browsers will make users more secure. Regular software patching and updating will help defend against the latest threats,” said West.

Avebury, who had asked the government to confirm what talks it had had with its French and German counterparts about security risks of using Internet Explorer, claimed on his blog that parliamentary IT authorities “actively discourage members from using [Google’s web browser] Chrome.”

On 26 January, West retorted that Microsoft’s patch to fix the recent IE vuln, coupled with government departments being issued with a “GovCertUK alert” on how to respond to such exploits in the browser, meant that UK.gov was well-equipped to slap down any potential hack.

“A government user, operating on government systems, such as the Government Secure Intranet (GSi), will benefit from additional security measures, unlikely to be available to the average home computer user. These include tools which actively monitor for evidence of any malicious attacks,” he said.

However, one government department has made it abundantly clear that it has little faith in IE6.

Late last week the Department of Health told NHS trusts whose systems were running on Windows 2000 or XP to switch to version 7 of Microsoft's browser. ®

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