Browsers, Java Lead Spyware to IE

By Michael Myser  |  Print this article Print


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A malicious batch of adware and spyware has appeared that can use Firefox and other alternative browsers to infect Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

A malicious batch of adware and spyware has appeared that can use Firefox and other alternative browsers to infect Microsoft's IE.

According to a researcher at Vitalsecurity.org in the United Kingdom, if a user visits a site hosting the malicious code and agrees to install the applications despite security warnings, Internet Explorer will automatically run and deluge the computer with pop-up ads and offers, regardless of IE security settings.

While the security and infection threat is relatively low—in addition to the security warnings, the code only affects users of Sun's JRE (Java Runtime Environment), and so far is only found at a Neil Diamond lyrics site—it illustrates the continued expansion of malicious code targeting alternative browsers, as well as a unique cross-browser capability.

"As virus writers get more sophisticated, they are looking at more products to exploit," said Gregg Mastoras, a senior security analyst at Sophos in the United Kingdom.

"Windows and Microsoft products are going to be the first targets because they're so ubiquitous. Other applications will become targets as they become more popular."

Consumers' love for IE is on the rocks, but with more than 25 million installs, Mozilla Organization's Firefox is one browser likely to see more attacks and exploit code heading its way.

Click here to read more about potential security flaws in Firefox.

"Firefox will retain an edge in security for some time, but the notion that you'll be impervious to threats due to using Firefox is an illusion," said Jim Slaby, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group.

"The criminal element has decided that it's profitable enough to write malware that targets it."

This code, however, doesn't work only through Firefox to get at IE.

Next Page: A 'new wave' of infections on the way.

According Christopher Boyd, the Vitalsecurity.org researcher, versions of alternative browsers including Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape and Avant all allow the execution of code within IE.

"There's definitely a new wave of infection triggers on the way," Boyd told eWeek.com. "Realizing that people are turning away from IE, they've [virus writers] now latched onto the idea of using non-browser specific platforms to nail the PC."

Boyd's bigger concern, however, is the application writers' use of Java as a gateway to execute the code.

Read more here about Firefox's major security update to fix several known cross-site scripting and domain-spoofing vulnerabilities.

By employing JRE, the installer appears as a Java applet rather than an Active X component, which is inherent to IE alone, and downloads a native executable binary (PE file).

That PE file then installs the offending adware and spyware applications.

"In this way, if the browser being used can recognize and install the applet, then it doesn't seem to matter what browser you're using, or how tight your IE security is," Boyd wrote on the site.

He also noted that deleting the newly created file will not remove the new adware, it will only remove the installer.

Boyd told eWEEK.com that rather than giving the end user the ability to decide whether to download the infected applet, Java should automatically lock down potentially malicious code.

Sun and Mozilla developers are currently working jointly to secure the browser and JRE's ability to execute the code.

Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer's Weblog.


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