The New Year started badly for Microsoft as the world got used to its warning that some versions of Internet Explorer (IE) were vulnerable to hacking attacks.
The bug came to light when the website of the American think tank the Council of Foreign Relations was infected with malware which could be downloaded by site visitors with versions 6, 7 and 8 of the web browser.
The world of hacking is jargon heavy, and this attack has been dubbed a ‘watering hole attack’. This type of attack targets a particular organisation not directly but through websites its members are likely to use. As the Council of Foreign Relations is a hugely prestigious Washington institution – both the Clintons and America’s probable next Secretary of State John Kerry are members – with deep connections to the country’s political elite it’s being speculated that spooks from a foreign government (China is the favourite) may be behind the attack.
It’s also what’s known as a ‘zero day’ attack. This means that it targets a previously unknown vulnerability in software. Web browsers are particularly vulnerable to this sort of dirty dealing.
Microsoft has reacted by publishing a security advisory. However, their best advice was to upgrade to IE 9 or 10, which can’t be attacked with this particular hack. This isn’t an option for anyone using Windows XP, who will have to wait for the release of a Microsoft patch sealing up the security hole.
Your web browser is your window on the world wide web and, along with email, it’s the easiest way for hackers to get control of your machine or load it with malicious software.
IE is shipped with millions of computers and many – particularly new – users are quite happy to go with what comes out of the box.
But changing your web browser isn’t difficult at all; the programme installation will talk you steadily through every step and even transfer all your bookmarks and favourites as part of the process. And, all the leading players are completely free too.
You can find very comprehensive reviews of all the best browsers here and you’ll see that Firefox scores a perfect 10 for security as well as a very high 9.33 overall. Surely, worth a look:
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