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Source: TheStar.com

Posted on January 18, 2010

A Toronto Internet security expert is surprised and disturbed that two European governments are warning people not to use Internet Explorer because of security risks.

France and Germany have urged Internet users to avoid Microsoft's browsers IE 6, 7 and 8 because of a weakness that allows hackers to infect the system.

"The unprecedented steps that these governments have taken are short-sighted and irresponsible," Claudiu Popa, president of Informatica Corp., said Monday. "This is very unfortunate. It's such a blanket statement. It leads people to wonder if they should even turn their computers on."

The French government's IT security arm, CERTA, issued its warning Monday, following the German government's declaration Friday that flaws in the Microsoft systems let hackers "start and lock computers that have a Windows operating system."

Germany specifically recommended against using versions 6, 7 and 8 of Internet Explorer on XP, Vista and Windows 7. Both governments recommended using an alternative browser.

The attacks occurred on a system running the obsolete Internet Explorer 6, said Popa. He rejected the sweeping warning that included IE 7 and 8, saying both had protections that, with proper computer security, should safeguard most users.

Thomas Baumgaertner, a Microsoft spokesman in Germany, disputed the German statement, saying, "These were not attacks against general users or consumers."

Nevertheless, Microsoft also admitted in its own security advisory that it was "actively working with partners" to fix the problem. Internet Explorer remains the world's largest browser, although it has fallen from 90 per cent of the market in 2004 to 66 per cent last year.

Last week, Microsoft said hackers exploited weaknesses in its browser to launch a "highly sophisticated" attack on human-rights activists' email around the world. Google threatened to shut down in China because of the attacks.

"This is a targeted, customized attack," said Popa. "Microsoft needs to issue a patch to deal with the issue.

"Next time, it'll be in a polymorphic form that changes shape every time it attacks. It will be automated and go through the Internet looking for potential targets. This is the beginning of something interesting."

Meanwhile, Reuters News Agency reported that Google is investigating whether people working in its China office may have helped hackers stage the attacks.

It quoted local media in China reporting that some Google China employees' access to networks was blocked after Jan. 13 and other staff were put on leave or transferred.

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