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Porn sites use IE bug to install spyware

Oh, the shame

Hackers are taking advantage of a newly discovered vulnerability in IE (Internet Explorer) to install spyware on PCs that visit a number of Russian porn sites.

The malware, first reported yesterday by researchers at Sunbelt Software, takes advantage of an unpatched flaw in the way IE processes VML (vector markup language) code. VML is used to display graphic information on the web.

The attack appears to work on all versions of the Windows OS (operating system) running the IE 6.0 browser, said Eric Sites, Sunbelt's vice-president of research and development. "It's not an OS-dependent issue," he said.

Sunbelt first discovered the malware on a Russian porn site late Friday. "This site and a couple of others use an exploit kit called Web Attacker, and it looks like the Web Attacker kit has been upgraded to include this new exploit," Sites said.

Since Friday, Sunbelt noticed that the attack code has popped up on about half a dozen Russian porn sites. In addition, since security researchers estimate that Web Attacker is used by nearly 1,000 websites, this latest exploit should soon become more widespread.

Web Attacker is a software development kit sold for as little as $20 (about £11) to criminals looking for an easy way to develop malware.

"Since it's being built into the next version of the Web Attacker kit, we expect that this thing will be everywhere in a few days," said Sites.

Whether the attacks will be widespread enough for Microsoft to rush to patch the flaw remains to be seen.

Today Microsoft confirmed the Sunbelt team's findings, and said it planned to fix the VML bug in its next set of security patches, scheduled to be released on 10 October, "or sooner as warranted", according to a statement from the company's public relations agency.

This is the second unpatched flaw found in IE over the past week. On 14 September, researchers posted code that could be used to exploit a different vulnerability in a multimedia component of IE. Microsoft is still investigating that flaw and is not saying whether it too will be patched next month.

Sunbelt says users can avoid the VML attack by disabling Javascript on their browsers. More information can be found on the Sunbelt blog, located here.


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