It seems like only last week that I was whining that browsers were disintegrating like so many smashed plates at a Greek wedding. Oh yes, it was only last week.
Well it looks as if some of this may not be a unique personal experience but is caused by a vulnerability in IE. Microsoft’s Security Advisory describes the flaw they’ve just found. The way it seems to operate sounds uncannily like what’s happened to my browser in IE.
The vulnerability exists as an invalid pointer reference in the data binding function of Internet Explorer. When data binding is enabled (which is the default state), it is possible under certain conditions for an object to be released without updating the array length, leaving the potential to access the deleted object’s memory space. This can cause Internet Explorer to exit unexpectedly, in a state that is exploitable. (from Microsoft’s Technet)
“invalid pointer reference in the data binding function.” I understand all the words individually but I got lost as soon as I tried to understand them when they are linked together.
But, causing IE to “exit unexpectedly”. That sounds like what IE has been doing randomly for weeks. Often failing to release the memory that it was using – which I don’t find out until too late. I didn’t really consider that it might be a new form of browser attack. How naive is that? D’oh.
Not that’s any excuse for Firefox. But I’m not convinced that FF is so magically free from being affected by the same attack attempts, that it won’t crash and die when it bumps into them, even if it doesn’t let an intruder in. In any case, I only ever use IE when Firefox has decided to commit suicide a few times.
I know that using Linux would mean that attacks like this would never work but it’s not completely intrusion-proof. This PC is pretty well on its last legs, as it is. It’s a few more bad reads away from hard disk failure, anyway. (And that’s in the not-completely “legacy” disk drive, not the really old disks that are also still in it.) The graphics card should be in the “Museum of graphics cards that were state of the art in 2003” If I change its OS, my software won’t work, I’ll lose all my passwords, the cable connections will have to be reset and so on. When I’m forced to get a new PC, it will use Linux, but until then, no.
Microsoft Technet page warns site owners that SQL injection attacks might turn their sites into unwitting distributors for the malcode and directs worried site owners to a scrawlr, a free HP tool that is supposed to check your site for SQL injection code. Every site that uses something like php is fair game for that.
So it sounds like a plan and the scrawlr page has a good cartoon. But I end up far from convinced there’s any value in downloading scrawlr, after reading the comments. Like this one from leon:
The comic is xkcd
The tool is useless, scrawl is entirely unable to detect even the simplest vulnerabilities, i went as far as pasting an example injection into the url bar and it okayed that!!! I also have an intentionally vulnerable site with local only access that we are using to configure our new IDS and it didn’t find a thing… seriously, if you take anything away from this, let it be the comic.
(That link is to the comic, in general. The scrawlr page has the relevant cartoon.)
Doesn’t let you check POST forms? 🙂 I think I’ll pass, then.
A report on the BBC’s tech page had a “security expert” saying “don’t use IE ” and Microsoft – unsurprisingly – warning against that particular course of action. 🙂
As many as 10,000 websites have been compromised since the vulnerability was discovered, he said.
“What we’ve seen from the exploit so far is it stealing game passwords, but it’s inevitable that it will be adapted by criminals,” he said. “It’s just a question of modifying the payload the trojan installs.” (from the BBC)
As soon as “security experts” start talking up threats, I tend not to believe them. 10,000 websites sounds as unconvincing as the UK government’s “30 terror plots.” And so far the exploit has stolen game passwords. Hmm. Hardly a cause to panic about your e-bay sales or your online banking, then. Do you care if you find yourself playing World of Warcraft alongside an unaccredited troll?
Still, Microsoft’s idea of advice doesn’t inspire much confidence, either.
Microsoft urged people to be vigilant while it investigated and prepared an emergency patch to resolve it.
How exactly am I supposed to be vigilant? I could try to check every invalid pointer reference in the data binding function, could I? Even if this wasn’t so far over my head that I could call it an “umbrella”, IE would have to become Open Source before I could even hope to identify the databinding function.
I thought I’d already pushed the intrusion detection boat out by running Ethereal and Snort whenever I feel mildly obsessive. (And they piss me off because half the transactions that my computer indulges in can’t be fathomed anyway. So I stick to using them for purposes like getting my passwords off the traffic stream, in plain text, which is surprisingly helpful when I’ve forgotten them but annoys me all the same Why on earth have passwords that are hidden from the bloody user by asterisks but easily readable by anyone with a packet-sniffer? Cue another rant.)
This “data-binding function” of IE needs a whole new set of skills that I really don’t believe would hold much entertainment value. So I don’t intend to get them. And “invalid pointers”? Can Microsoft or someone direct me to the Girl’s Big Book of Valid Pointers so I can be properly “vigilant”?