Microsoft extends SmartScreen browsing protection to foil malvertising and exploit kits

The technology can now block websites or malicious ads that try to exploit vulnerabilities in popular software

Microsoft SmartScreen, the phishing and malware filtering technology built into Internet Explorer, Edge and Windows, has now been updated to block Web-based attacks that silently exploit software vulnerabilities to infect computers.

Such attacks are known as drive-by downloads, because they don't require user interaction aside from browsing to a malicious website or a legitimate one that has been compromised.

To launch such attacks, hackers use tools known as exploit kits that take advantage of vulnerabilities in the OS, the browser, or popular software like Flash Player, Silverlight and Java.

While exploit kits typically target vulnerabilities after they have been patched by software vendors, there have been cases when they've exploited previously unknown flaws that are known in the security industry as zero-days. In addition, the time window between when patches are released and when attackers start targeting the fixed flaws has significantly shrunk in recent years, giving users less time to update.

According to Microsoft, this year exploit kit authors have integrated exploits for 4 new vulnerabilities within 30 days after they were patched, for 6 flaws within 10 days, and for 5 before they even had a fix available.

A popular method of targeting users' browsers with exploit kits is through malicious advertisements displayed on popular websites, or malvertising.

While ad networks have been trying to prevent such abuse for years, attackers still manage to find ways around their defenses because of the highly complex nature of the online advertising ecosystem where ads can pass through five or more intermediaries before they reach a user's browser.

With the latest update for Windows 10, Microsoft has extended SmartScreen to block drive-by attacks in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer 11, the Microsoft Edge Team said Wednesday in a blog post.

The new capability is based on the security intelligence that Microsoft receives from multiple products such as Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Bing, Windows Defender and the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET).

Thanks to this data, which includes behavioral telemetry, SmartScreen can even detect attacks that exploit zero-day vulnerabilities, according to Microsoft.

For example, in December last year, Defender and EMET picked up new exploits that were targeting millions of users through malicious ads, the company said. Those exploits were part of an exploit kit called HanJuan and were targeting a previously unknown vulnerability in Flash Player that was later reported to Adobe and patched.

When SmartScreen blocks drive-by download attacks, it will display a red warning instead of the Web page that the user is trying to access, or inside a frame on that Web page. That's because the technology can selectively block malicious ads loaded inside HTML frames on legitimate websites, while letting users interact with the rest of the content of those websites.

"When drive-by attacks target vulnerabilities that have already been fixed in popular software, your browser, or your operating system, it’s vital that you install security updates when they become available," the Microsoft Edge Team said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Lucian Constantin

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?