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Germany warns surfers against Firefox

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German's official cyber-security response team is advising surfers not to use Firefox pending the release of a patch to defend against a critical unpatched vulnerability.

BürgerCERT, a division of the German federal government's security in information technology (BSI) department, warned surfers to steer clear of the open source browser until Mozilla releases a fix, due on 30 March. The zero-day vulnerability in the latest full version 3.6 of Firefox was discovered by security researcher Evgeny Legerov last month and explained in much greater depth in our story at the time here. Legerov controversially offered to sell exploit code he developed.

Mozilla acknowledged the security vulnerability on Thursday and promised the the next version of 3.6.2, due at the end of the month, would plug the hole. In the meantime, Mozilla published a beta of Firefox 3.6.2 that addresses the flaw. However this release isn't ready for prime time just yet.

The German government, which previously urged surfers to stay off IE in January for similar unpatched security bug reasons, has now taken a stand against Firefox.

The consensus among security researchers is that mass browser migration in enterprises is unworkable. It's tricky enough to get some corporates (including even Google, if the evidence of Operation Aurora is to be believed) to upgrade from IE 6.

Consumers don't have to worry about access to legacy applications but swapping browsers willy-nilly in response to flaws doesn't make a great deal of sense even then because all browsers are subject to security flaps from time to time. The more important question is to what extent an unpatched browser hole is getting exploited by hackers, scammers and other riff-raff.

The Firefox vulnerability poses a possible mechanism to infect surfers using the open source browser if they can be tricked into visiting a maliciously constructed website. In the case of the Firefox vulnerability exploit code is available - though not in a "weaponised" form - and there's not much sign that attacks are taking place.

Versions of Firefox prior to 3.6 are not prone to this specific vulnerability but are subject to other bugs, so reverting back to earlier versions of the browser isn't the smartest idea. ®

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