Users urged to Drop Internet Explorer over Security Concerns

Browsing the web never used to be too complicated. Years ago, we had a choice between very primitive browsers, mostly between AOL, Netscape and Internet Explorer. Just like everything else related to the internet and the tech world, though, a lot changed in a short period of time. Now the three major browsers are Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google’s Chrome.

Of course things got more complicated too. We’re constantly reminded of hackers and security threats in the news. Just a few weeks ago Java, a popular coding language used on almost every website, was hit with a particularly nasty exploit. Many security experts took the extreme view of disabling Java entirely until it was finally patched. Today we’ve got news of a similar exploit hitting users of the popular internet browser from Microsoft, Internet Explorer (IE).

So What’s the Vulnerability?

This morning, according to Techwatch, “Microsoft has warned that its web browser has been hit by a critical vulnerability which could allow an attacker to gain control of IE users’ PCs.” Some security holes give hackers access to information, but this can flat out give control of your PC to a hacker. This is definitely not a little bug that you should dismiss as harmless.

The exploit works by abusing Java and HTML code to “corrupt memory in such a manner that allows an attacker to execute code within IE,” writes Techwatch. To put it more simply, the hacker uses this exploit to turn your web browser (if it’s IE) into a sort-of gateway to control your PC. This means he or she can look through your computer or run other malicious code if they felt the need to. This security hole could be a threat to the average user, but that doesn’t appear to be its target. It’s more likely that businesses, governments, and large multinational corporations are going to be targeted, but you can never be 100% sure.

Germany doesn’t Want Anyone Using IE

Believe it or not, but this very same security exploit has prompted the German government to take a stand against IE. According to Reuters, the German government has told its citizens, “to temporarily stop using Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer.” That advice is in effect until a successful patch has been made to the IE software by Microsoft.

If you think Germany’s response is over-the-top, think again. Cyber security has become a hotbed issue for governments and businesses alike. Attacks have skyrocketed over the last few years by clandestine groups and foreign governments as they went after large companies and government agencies around the world.

What’s even more concerning about this is that the security flaw was discovered by a researcher “while analyzing a computer server that was used last year to launch a cyber industrial espionage campaign.” Lately, these security attacks have been targeted not at the common user but at businesses involved in important work or businesses with trade secrets. The fact that there could be a link to previous attacks is unsettling.

Why Small Businesses Should Pay Attention to This

If you run a small business you may be reading this and think, “Ah well, looks like the hackers are going after the big guys, I don’t need to worry about this.” Sure, maybe they will only go after the big players. This time. There’s no way to predict what hackers are looking into and who their targets are going to be.

You see, the thing with hackers is that the ball is always in their court. Security experts can only respond to things they know about, and even then it can take some time. If you willingly use software, browsers, or websites that have been compromised, you are setting yourself up for an attack. Think about how much information your business might keep on the computers. Imagine if that information got out to the public, to competitors, or more importantly, was simply erased by a chaos-inspired hacker. Even something like identity theft is a very real problem!

Sure, the web is a great place to make loads of money for your business. But it’s also a place that requires you to pay serious attention to security. Do you have someone running your security? If the thought never crossed your mind, you might want to consider checking out some security folks to make sure your network is safe from intruders. Don’t let your business and your privacy to the mercy of hackers.

Do you use a browser other than IE? If you don’t, are you going to stop using IE until this exploit is patched?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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