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Internet security: Microsoft continues to hide its head in the sand

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July 17, 2009

When Internet security is concerned, Microsoft is continuing to hide its head in the sand, and dosen't appear to take matters seriously.

The software giant was well aware of an important security vulnerability in an Internet Explorer component at least a whole year before some attackers started targeting it in nasty exploits that would take full control of a users' computer, a member of its own security team said late yesterday.

Such a disclosure comes as Internet attacks targeting the MSVidCtl ActiveX control vulnerability have increased by an extremely wide margin.

According to security firm ScanSafe, on July 13, online ads distributed through the Giant Realm network on popular gaming sites began including code that exploited IE's security hole. The ads mean that anyone using Microsoft's Internet Explorer to browse websites such as diii.net and incgamers.com are at great risk if they run Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 and have not yet installed the proper security patch.

Microsoft was well alerted to the flaw as early as April 2008. The software maker did not issue an advisory or fixed it until July 13 of this week, a day after reports first surfaced that the security vulnerability was being exploited in the field.

In its defense to all of this, Mike Reavey, director of the Microsoft Security Response Center said there are some very good reasons why the company waited so long, and one of the security researchers who discovered the bug concurs. But for others in the security industry, the delay is disturbing, simply because it may have given attackers a strong advantage.

"The big concern is that other attackers will adopt it for their own purposes as well, and that's exactly what's happened here," said Mary Landesman, senior security researcher at ScanSafe.

"Worse, attackers were very quick to take advantage of it, because this was a day after the zero-day exploit became widely known," added Landesman.

Overall, rogue ads on some gaming sites are by no means the only place where the vulnerability is being exploited either. Various Google searches suggest there may be close to 3 million compromised webpages that redirect users to a malicious site targeting the exploit.

That's a massive increase from just a few days ago, when the number of compromised websites was believed to be only in the thousands.

Microsoft's Reavey defended the decision to withhold an advisory until Monday, explaining that any security fix must meet a "demanding balancing act" that ensures it is thorough enough to block a wide variety of related attacks (!) while narrow enough that it doesn't cripple crucial parts of the software. (!) (?)

He added "if we release a security update that breaks applications it doesn't protect anybody because they simply won't install it."

There's absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that Microsoft needs to greatly improve the overall security of ALL it's operating systems and it must be done swiftly and thoroughly for the benefit of all concerned.

Microsoft needs to be a lot more proactive that it's been and, as the world's largest software maker, it needs to set an example for other software makers in terms of security and dependability.

We will continue to follow these developments with great interest, and hopefully the software behemoth will improve the overall security of its products.

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Source: Linux News.

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