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Why the IE-Google Incident Should Worry You

By Bill Brenner
January 15, 2010 12:35 PM ET

CSO - Most of the time, alarming reports about zero-day flaws and new security patches make me skeptical. But not when it comes to the attack against Google through a zero-day flaw in Internet Explorer (IE).

Hackers used a security hole in a browser famous for vulnerabilities to compromise the biggest search giant on the planet. In the process, a lot of other companies suffered. Here's how my colleague, Robert McMillan, described recent events in his article:

Microsoft is scrambling to patch an Internet Explorer flaw that was used to hack into Google's corporate networks last month. The attack was used to hack into networks at 34 companies, including Adobe, security experts say. Typically such hacks involve several such attacks, but the IE bug is the only one definitively linked to the hacking incident, which security experts say originated in China.

In a security advisory released Thursday, Microsoft said IE 6 users on Windows XP are most at risk from the flaw, but that other users could be affected by modified versions of the attack. Microsoft said it is developing a fix, but it did not say when it expects to patch the issue. The company is slated to release its next set of security updates on Feb. 9. A Google spokesman confirmed Thursday that the Internet Explorer attack was used against Google and that the company then reported the issue to Microsoft.

Google learned of the issue in December and, after discovering the server used to control the hacked computers, notified other companies affected by the hack. Apparently convinced that the infiltration was sanctioned by the Chinese government, Google has threatened to effectively pull its business out of China.

This column isn't about bashing Microsoft or Google. My opinion is that both companies have been fairly aggressive about security, especially Microsoft. Despite the best effort of companies, the bad guys still score big with increased frequency.

I do, however, see this as a big wake-up call for all of us.

In past columns, I've taken security vendors and PR agencies to task for putting out alarmist alerts for every vulnerability that rolls around the pike. My reasoning has been based on history. When I was reporting on Patch Tuesday each month in my previous job, my e-mail inbox would start clogging by 10 a.m. with messages from PR reps eager to get me on the phone with one of their clients to discuss the latest cause for alarm. Then I'd get on the phone with the vendors and hear pretty much the same grim scenario -- regardless of the flaw -- that I heard the month before. Most of the time, the warnings were not followed by the big attack. Then I'd get on the phone with IT security administrators who wouldn't be feeling the alarm coming from the outside.

Originally published on www.csoonline.com. Click here to read the original story.
This story is reprinted from CSO Online.com, an online resource for information executives. Story Copyright CXO Media Inc., 2006. All rights reserved.
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