Microsoft issues security advisory on IE vulnerability

Exploit code released over weekend for browser attack

Microsoft Monday night issued a security advisory that provides customers with guidance and workarounds for dealing with a zero-day exploit aimed at Internet Explorer.

Earlier in the day, the company said it was investigating the incident which emerged over the weekend when someone published the exploit code to the Bugtraq mailing list. By Monday night, Microsoft switched gears and issued the advisory. There have not been any active exploits of the vulnerability reported so far.

Microsoft released Security Advisory 977981, which includes workarounds for an issue that exposes a flaw in Cascading Style Sheets that could allow for remote code execution. Vulnerabilities that allow remote-code execution generally result in patches rated as critical by Microsoft.

Microsoft's Security Response Center posted a blog entry Tuesday night saying it was working on a patch: "Our teams are currently working to develop an update and we will take appropriate action to protect customers when the update has met the quality bar for broad distribution. That may include releasing the update out of band."

The advisory confirmed the vulnerability affects IE 6 on Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, and IE 6 and IE 7 on supported editions of XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. Microsoft’s said users running IE 7 on Vista can configure the browser to run in Protected Mode to limit the impact of the vulnerability. It also recommended setting the Internet zone security setting to “High” to protect against the exploit. The “High” setting will disable JavaScript, which currently is the only confirmed attack mode.

Microsoft said IE 5.01 Service Pack 4 and IE 8 on all supported versions of Windows are not affected.

For an attack to work, the hacker would first have to get his victim to visit a Web site that hosted the exploit code. This could be a malicious Web site set up by the hacker himself or it could be a site that allows users to upload content.

Another way cyber criminals have launched this type of attack, however, is by hacking into legitimate Web sites. Earlier this week, for example citizen's band radio vendor Cobra Electronics disclosed that it had been hacked in June, most likely by a professional hacker who had used the site to download malware to customers.

Microsoft did not say whether it would patch the flaw during its next regularly scheduled set of security updates, due Dec. 8.

(Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.)

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John Fontana

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