Microsoft is strongly suggesting Internet Explorer users download a temporary patch to bandage a vulnerability that could allow hackers to take remote control of their computers. Some are tracing it back to the now-infamous Oracle Java attackers.
Redmond on late Monday posted a security advisory urging users to download the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit if they are using IE version 6 through 9. IE 10, which is set to debut with the new Windows 8 operating system, is not affected.
"Microsoft is aware of targeted attacks that attempt to exploit this vulnerability. A remote code execution vulnerability exists in the way that Internet Explorer accesses an object that has been deleted or has not been properly allocated," Microsoft said in its advisory.
"The vulnerability may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user within Internet Explorer. An attacker could host a specially crafted Web site that is designed to exploit this vulnerability through Internet Explorer and then convince a user to view the Web site."
Installing Poison Ivy
Paul Roberts, a security analyst at Sophos, said the gang behind the recent Java zero-day attacks apparently hasn't packed up for the season. Roberts points to analysis from AlienVault that suggests a zero day is being used in attacks that install the Poison Ivy Trojan.
Meanwhile, French security Web site ZATAZ.com reveals the exploit was discovered when analyzing a batch of files hosted on one of the servers the Nitro gang used to distribute attacks that exploited the Java vulnerability.
After running one of the sample files on a fully patched Windows XP SP3 system with an up-to-date version of Adobe Flash, ZATAZ co-founder Eric Romang "was surprised to find that the files loaded malicious software to his fully patched XP system," Roberts said.
"Further analysis revealed that .html and Flash files were used to identify proper targets (Windows XP systems running IE 7 and 8) and use a common technique called a 'heap spray' to lay the groundwork for a successful iFrame attack against the systems that exploited the vulnerability and used it to install a malicious program, 111.exe. That malware has been identified as a new variant of the Poison Ivy Trojan horse program, according to the security firm AlienVault Labs," Roberts added.
Microsoft's Fast Response
Whenever any vendor, but particularly Microsoft, issues a fix out-of-band it means the threat is serious and you should patch immediately, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"Patch Tuesday was designed to introduce the least amount of disruptions, so to break that cycle you have what Microsoft thinks is a very real and serious threat where somebody can do damage. Microsoft is moving aggressively to halt the damage," Enderle told us.
"This is the way it's supposed to work. When you have a complex product there's always a chance that somebody is going to discover a hole. The process should be that you fix the hole before somebody exploits it. One of Microsoft's strengths is to respond so quickly to the threat. Not only will there be a patch, Microsoft will also attempt to identify the attacker and get him locked up."