Late in April, security researchers found a remote code execution bug that allows Flash-based elements of webpages to take control of your browser. It affected all versions of Internet Explorer, from v6 to the current, v11. And it took weeks for Microsoft to fix the issue – weeks where countless numbers of systems were vulnerable to attack. This is known as a “Zero-Day Exploit,” referring to the number of days that the software developers have had to react and patch the problem. These exploits are particularly dangerous because no one is actively trying to fix them, and if the bad guys find them first, they’ll use them for nefarious purposes. In many cases, these exploits are sold to criminal organizations or governments looking for ways to increase their cyber warfare arsenal.
The fallout from this vulnerability went viral after the Department of Homeland Security recommended that IE not be used until the exploit was fixed, with businesses and other government agencies also scrambling for a way to mitigate the potential damage. Though many switched to Firefox, Chrome, or another browser, a significant number of businesses run apps that depend on a particular version of IE and don’t have the ability to upgrade to some other browser. They were stuck until Microsoft finally patched the exploit.
(If you’re reading this on IE and haven’t patched yet, I highly recommend you visit the Microsoft site and do so immediately.)
But should you be worried about these attacks in the future? Most certainly. Zero-day exploits are a huge problem that can expose your business to real harm in the form of data or identity theft. They can allow malicious hackers to gain trusted access to your customer files, snoop around using one of your logins or other user credentials, or download any private data that you have stored on your PC.
With the nature of zero-day exploits, it’s not possible to protect against something that isn’t yet a known security risk. However, you can add an additional security layer to try to thwart the bad guys. In a review of secure browser technologies I recently did for Network World, I recommended Invincea’s FreeSpace. The way it works is by adding another layer of protection, called a sandbox, to your existing browsers, so that even in the case that they become infected, the evildoer couldn’t get very far into the nooks and crannies of your PC.
You can see some of its protective options here in this screenshot. This is a product to try out if your users run a variety of browsers, don’t want to switch to a new browser, or still want to hold on to that creaky and aging version of IE. Administrators using FreeSpace can also block all file downloads (or allow users to choose) by setting an optional switch.