Feeds

Unpatched IE bug exploited in targeted attacks

'More than a few organizations' hit

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

Unknown attackers have been targeting a previously unknown vulnerability in Internet Explorer to take control of machines running the Microsoft browser, security watchers warned on Wednesday.

The exploits were hosted on a page of an unidentified website that had been breached without the owner's knowledge, according to antivirus provider Symantec, which discovered the attacks a few days ago. The perpetrators then sent emails that lured a select group of people in targeted organizations to the booby-trapped page, causing those who used IE versions 6 and 7 to be infected with a backdoor trojan.

The exploit required no interaction on the part of victims and gave no indication what was happening. While the exploit page was found on a single website, Symantec researchers warned the attacks may have been widespread.

“Looking at the log files from this exploited server we know that the malware author had targeted more than a few organizations,” they wrote. “The files on this server had been accessed by people in lots of organizations in multiple industries across the globe.”

In an encouraging sign, few of the visitors were affected because they weren't using a vulnerable browser, they added.

Version 8 of IE may also be vulnerable, but a security protection known as DEP, or data execution prevention – which is turned on by default – causes the browser to crash rather than to remotely execute the malicious code, Microsoft said. DEP, which was first added to IE 7, is designed to lessen the damage of such attacks by preventing data loaded into memory from being executed. While hackers have figured out ways to bypass the technology, so-called heap-spraying attacks don't work well with this particular bug.

The security flaw resides in a part of IE that handles CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, tags. As a result, the browser under-allocates memory, allowing data to be overwritten in memory vtable pointers. By spraying memory with special data, an attacker can cause IE to execute code.

The report is the latest reminder of the benefits of moving to the latest version of IE – or to a different browser altogether. Those who must use IE versions 6 or 7, should consider augmenting it with EMET, Microsoft's tool for locking down older applications. It can be used to add DEP and other security mitigations to a variety of programs, including IE and Adobe Reader.

Microsoft didn't say when it planned to patch the vulnerability, but Jerry Bryant, a spokesman for Microsoft response, indicated the bug probably didn't warrant a release outside of the company's normal update cycle. That means the earliest we're likely to see a fix is December 14.

Microsoft has more details here, here and here. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.