Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/19/microsoft_xp_ie6_windows_7_security_nightmare/

MS spins IE security disaster into Windows 7 upgrade opportunity

'Ditch XP, our browser is safe-ish, pigs can fly' etc.

By Kelly Fiveash

Posted in Operating Systems, 19th January 2010 13:40 GMT

Microsoft is doing its best to deflect from the software vendor’s ugly, fat security hole in Internet Explorer 6, by telling customers to not only upgrade their browser for the latest version of IE, but also to ditch Windows XP while they’re at it.

The much-loved operating system that refuses to die is vulnerable to attack, said Microsoft. Cue the company’s wonks declaring - yet again - that it’s time to move on to Windows Vista 7.

“As you can see, the client configuration currently at risk is Windows XP running IE6,” said Microsoft in a security bulletin late last week, that helpfully displayed a diagram with big red blocks on it, highlighting the risks of using IE 6 and XP.

“We recommend users of IE 6 on Windows XP upgrade to a new version of Internet Explorer and/or enable DEP. Users of other platforms are at reduced risk. We also recommend users of Windows XP upgrade to newer versions of Windows.”

That danger warning isn’t applicable to Vista or Windows 7 because, noted Microsoft, those OS versions ship with later iterations of the firm’s browser, which leads the field by a good margin over its competitors, despite the fact that Firefox, Safari and Chrome are doing rather a good job of closing that gap.

Code for a known weakness in IE 6 running on Windows XP has already been released onto the internet, making it pretty easy for a hacker to exploit the flaw. Microsoft confirmed the hole was used in the recent attacks against Google and 33 other companies, which are understood to have originated in China.

The response from some European governments, though sadly not Blighty, has been to swiftly advise Internet Explorer users to switch browsers, until the hole is patched by Microsoft.

Sadly, however, MS isn’t offering any timeline on when that might happen. And, overlooking a major PR gaffe, Redmond is instead asking punters to look the other way, by upgrading their operating systems to either Vista (loaded with IE 7) or Windows 7 (loaded with IE 8).

Worse still, it’s doing this even though the firm cannot offer a watertight guarantee that those later editions of Internet Explorer won’t also be exposed to the same security flaw. In fact, they are at risk from the same attack.

“The vulnerability is present in Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, and Internet Explorer 8. All versions may crash after opening the attack code. However, there are a number of ways to limit the attack to an IE crash and prevent attacker code execution,” said Microsoft.

Which is a bit like saying "foot, meet gun." ®