Widespread attacks exploit newly patched IE bug

Symantec has seen attacks on hundreds of Web sites over the past day

The first widespread attack to leverage a recently patched flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser has surfaced.

Starting late Wednesday, researchers at antivirus vendor Symantec's Security Response group began spotting dozens of Web sites that contain the Internet Explorer attack, which works reliably on the IE 6 browser, running on Windows XP. The attack installs a Trojan horse program that is able to bypass some security products and then give hackers access to the system, said Joshua Talbot, a security intelligence manager with Symantec.

Once it has infected a PC, the Trojan sends a notification e-mail to the attackers, using a U.S.-based, free e-mail service that Symantec declined to name.

As of midday Thursday, Symantec had spotted hundreds of Web sites that hosted the attack code, typically on free Web-hosting services or domains that the attackers had registered themselves.

The IE flaw being leveraged in these attacks was also used to hack into Google's corporate network last December. It has been linked to similar incidents at 33 other companies, including Adobe Systems. Microsoft patched the vulnerability in an emergency security update Thursday morning.

The Google attack hit IE 6 on Windows XP, but over the past week hackers have found ways to exploit the flaw on more recent versions of the browser as well. These latest techniques do not appear to be used on the Web sites Symantec has uncovered. They use the IE 6 exploit code, Talbot said.

Still, with IE 6 still being widely used, the move to more widespread attacks is worrying. "It may be an indication that attackers have finally ramped up their attack toolkits and are now ready to launch widespread attacks," Talbot said.

He believes that the criminals are tricking victims into visiting their Web sites by sending spam e-mail or instant messages with links to sites.

On Thursday, Websense published some sample e-mails used in targeted attacks that exploit the IE bug. A typical subject line is "Helping You Serve Your Customers." The e-mail reads, "I just heard the news: Helping you serve your customers" and includes a link to the malicious Web site.

The e-mails contain spoofed e-mail addresses, designed to fool victims into thinking that they were sent by a colleague. The malicious Trojan used in the attack is not the same one that was used in the Google attack, however.

Websense has seen these e-mails sent to targeted companies in the U.S. and the U.K., said Patrik Runald, a security research manager with Websense. "These attacks are actually continuing; they happened today; they happened yesterday and they happened the day before."

However, Websense believes that the e-mails it has tracked are part of a small-scale targeted attack, similar to those used on Google and Adobe in attacks that are ongoing. Websense has counted only about 25 malicious Web sites to date, but the number is rising fast, Runald said.

Security experts believe this more targeted technique is used as part of a systematic cyber-espionage campaign, which some have linked to China.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags web browserssecurityInternet Explorer

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?