Israeli experts pinpoint more holes in IE

Flaws in several versions of Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer Web browser could allow an attacker to read files or run arbitrary code on a user’s system, an Israeli Web application company warned Tuesday.

The company, GreyMagic Software, detailed what it says are nine new security vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer (IE) 5.5 and 6.0. Prior versions are not vulnerable, while only two of the vulnerabilities affect IE6 with Service Pack 1, according to GreyMagic in a security advisory posted on its Web site.

With all the vulnerabilities combined, an attacker can “easily steal private local documents, forge trusted Web sites, steal clipboard information, and even execute arbitrary programs,” GreyMagic said in a statement sent via e-mail. An attacker would have to lure a user to a specially-coded Web site to carry out an attack.

“It would be extremely simple to exploit these new vulnerabilities,” said Lee Dagon, security services coordinator at GreyMagic in an e-mail interview. “The code used to exploit a client is very short and straightforward and exploitation is as easy as getting someone to go to a specific Web page.”

Users can check what version of IE is installed by clicking “About Internet Explorer” in the “Help” pull-down menu of the browser.

GreyMagic, in Jerusalem, informed Microsoft at the same time it disclosed details of the vulnerabilities to the public. The Israeli company said that in the past “notifying Microsoft ahead of time and waiting for them to patch the reported issues proved nonproductive.”

Microsoft says it is “concerned” by the way GreyMagic reported the vulnerabilities. “Publishing this report may put computer users at risk – or at the very least could cause needless confusion and apprehension,” Microsoft said in a statement.

“Responsible security researchers” work with the maker of the product that is suspected to be vulnerable to “ensure that countermeasures are developed before the issue is made public and customers are needlessly put at risk,” the Redmond, Wash., software maker said.

GreyMagic has not heard from Microsoft since it reported the vulnerabilities on Tuesday, said Dagon.

“We end up reading about their reactions in various news items,” he said. “Our primary goal in releasing these advisories…is to alert users to the risks they are exposed to and suggest workarounds for them to employ. The way we see it, that is the responsible thing to do.”

Microsoft did not confirm the existence of the vulnerabilities, but said it is investigating the issues reported by GreyMagic just as it investigates all reports of security flaws in its products.

GreyMagic advises users to disable Active Scripting in IE until Microsoft issues a patch.