Microsoft Releases Out of Band Update for Internet Explorer

If you haven’t heard this already, there was an incident where Google and about 20 other companies were hacked last month.  It allegedly is tied into the Chinese Government.  Because of this, a few things have taken place.

Google is threatening to pull their Search engine out of China (at the very least they are threatening to stop censoring search results at the request of the Government) and they threatened to delay the release of their new phone in China.

People were throwing blame around at different companies and different applications for this hack.  It turned out that the hack was done on Internet Explorer 6.x—due to an unannounced vulnerability.

Microsoft is reported to be releasing an out-of-band update today for this vulnerability.  They also recommend the following steps to mitigate it:

  • If you are running Internet Explorer 6, it’s time to upgrade. 
  • Regardless of whether you are planning on upgrading, you should set your Internet Zone to “High”
  • Internet Explorer 7 and 8 users (on Vista or Windows 7) should enable “Protected Mode”.
  • All users should enable Data Execution Prevention (DEP) on their computers.  DEP prevents the computer from executing code which is stored in memory that is supposed to only contain non-executable code.
  • You should be running in non-Administrative accounts (or have UAC enabled) to restrict the rights of an infected user.  This is something that everyone has been preaching since the dawn of Windows XP.

There are people who are trying to tweak this vulnerability to work in Internet Explorer 7 and 8 on Vista and Windows 7.  One of the people claims that DEP won’t mitigate this, if the application doesn’t “opt-in” to it.  I’m not sure if he is referring to Internet Explorer (which you will opt-in by enabling DEP) or the malicious code.  Also I’ve read that some systems (namely netbooks and older CPU’s) do not have “Hardware DEP”, so enabling it doesn’t actually work. ***I can’t verify this***

So, what should you do???

First and foremost you need to get updates.  This is regardless of whether you use Internet Explorer or not.  It’s better safe than sorry—especially since some programs do not follow the rules about default browsers.

This is a good time to try out Firefox with the No-Script addon and also Google Chrome.  I would even suggest Apple Safari, but I haven’t used it very much to know what it’s limitations are.

Some people would say this is the time to remove Windows, and switch to another Operating System (namely Linux) or buy a Macintosh.  While I love Linux, I don’t think that is the best solution in this case (although I would encourage people to try a Live CD out).  And I definitely cannot recommend spending $1,000+ on a new computer—just to get a Macintosh.

The short end of the stick is this.  Update your computer after 10:00 am PST today.  I would recommend an alternative browser.  However, since this potentially affects Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and anything else that uses Internet Explorer, you NEED to update the computer.

On a side note, Microsoft is also releasing an advisory about a Kernel vulnerability.  This requires the attacker to be able to log into your computer from your computer (meaning not from the Internet).  It remains to be seen if they will have a patch for this today or not.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

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