I shouldn’t have worried that my special “Microsoft Zero-day Warning” graphic was going to gather dust. Would it surprise you to hear that a serious security flaw has been found in all versions of Internet Explorer up to the latest, version 11? This particular loophole allows attackers to use a specially crafted Flash file downloaded from compromised websites (like the ones linked to in spam, scams and phishing emails) to gain full access to your computer, and will likely lead to a badly infected computer and theft of your personal information. Though there are some band-aids offered by Microsoft, as of now there is no word whether this hole will be plugged by an emergency patch released soon, or on “Patch Tuesday” (2 weeks from now), or even later than that. Because of the severity of the security flaw, even the Department of Homeland Security is recommending everyone avoid using IE until this is fixed. Oh, and remember Windows XP? It won’t be getting patched, so yet another burning reason to switch browsers, and upgrade as soon as possible.
What this means for you:
This flaw is being exploited “in the wild” as you read this, though not widespread yet, and has thus far been used to target government employees and defense contractors. Given how large the target surface is, this exploit is highly likely to spread beyond these focused attacks. Unless your work requires it (or disallows the use of other browsers), you should stop using Internet Explorer for anything except known work-related websites. And if you have to use IE, you can disable the Flash add-on until the hole is plugged. This article from Microsoft explains how to do this, but make sure you use the little drop-down to the right of the headline to switch to the appropriate version of IE for specific steps. Chrome, Firefox or Safari are good alternatives to IE, and who knows, you may find that they can permanently replace IE for most of your web browsing tasks.