A flaw in the way Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser processes FTP commands could let attackers steal or erase data from a victim's FTP site.
The bug, which affects users of IE 6 and the unsupported IE 5 browser, gives an attacker a way of hijacking the victim's FTP sessions. But a successful attack would be very hard to pull off and would only work in very precise, targeted attacks, security experts said.
The attacker would need to know the victim's username on the FTP server and the victim would have to already be logged into the server, using IE. Under those conditions, the victim could be sent a malicious FTP link that would then execute commands on the victim's FTP server.
This link could be sent to the browser via an invisible iFrame component, hidden on a malicious Web site, so the victim might not even know the attack was taking place.
"It's something that people could use to steal data, but you'd have to know your target," said Derek Abdine, the principal software engineer with security vendor Rapid7, who disclosed the issue Monday in a security advisory.
"The attack seems viable, but the stars have to be aligned just right for the attack to work," said Craig Schmugar, a researcher with McAfee's Avert Labs, in an e-mail. "An administrator would need to be authenticated already or the server would need to be configured with weak credentials."
Rapid7 notified Microsoft of the issue on Jan. 22 and decided to publish proof-of-concept code that illustrated the flaw after Microsoft had not patched the issue a month later.
The MS06-042 update fixed many IE vulnerabilities, but it ended up embarrassing Microsoft. That's because the security patch had a flaw of its own, a critical security vulnerability that sent Microsoft's security team scrambling to re-issue the update.
The FTP problem does not affect IE 7, Microsoft said Tuesday. The software vendor has not heard of any attacks that take advantage of this vulnerability and has determined that any successful attack would only lead to the unauthorized disclosure of data, the company said in a statement.