News broke in the security world earlier this week that a critical vulnerability had been found in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7. The vulnerability could be used to take over computers and is known to be currently being used to steal passwords.
Rick Ferguson, a senior security adviser at security firm Trend Micro says thus far the hole has only been exploited to steal online game passwords, but the attacks could become much more serious for unpatched users. He states, "It is inevitable that it will be adapted by criminals. It's just a question of modifying the payload the trojan installs."
The seriousness of the flaw was evidenced by Microsoft's rather public announcement of the vulnerability and panicked rush to develop a patch. So-called "out-of-band" announcements from Microsoft are rare.
In this case it made such an announcement, stating in a press release, "Microsoft teams worldwide have been working around the clock to develop a security update to help protect our customers. Until the update is available, Microsoft strongly encourages customers to follow the Protect Your Computer Guidance at www.microsoft.com/protect, which includes activating the Automatic Update setting in Windows to ensure that they receive the update as soon as it is available."
Microsoft has announced that it will have a patch for the vulnerability by 1800 GMT on 17 December, available via Windows Update.
Some experts have suggested that corporate and private users switch browsers, to an alternative such as Firefox, Opera, or Chrome until the security flaw is patched on affected systems. Only Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 is vulnerable to this latest attack.
However, some security experts are cautioning that a switch may be equally problematic. Says Graham Cluley, senior consultant with security firm Sophos, "Firefox has issued patches and Apple has too. Whichever browser you are using you have to keep it up to date. People have to be prepared and willing to install security updates. That nagging screen asking if you want to update should not be ignored."
The report ironically follows fast on a report that Firefox is a dangerously vulnerable application for businesses. Apple's Safari has also been blasted within the last year for poor security and patching.
Even the security of major open source software, not a popular target for hackers who heavily use such software, was recently brought into question when a major encryption scheme was found to be broken. All of these instances illustrating the growing challenge of computer security, the difficulty with being a market leader (and thus a mark), and need for diligence when it comes to patches and updates.