US, UK Governments Say Avoid Internet Explorer

A number of news outlets are reporting that the US and UK governments have issued a warning advising users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser to stop using it for now due to a major vulnerability.

There are a number of alternative web browsers available, including Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Both of them have mobile versions and the ability to synchronize bookmarks, add-ons, and other data with multiple devices.

Media are linking this to the End of Support for Windows XP but this appears to be unrelated, as Internet Explorer versions 6 through 11 are affected by this vulnerability. Windows XP supports Internet Explorer only up to version 8. This does mean, however, that any fix for the problem will not be applied to Windows XP, so it is best to use an alternate browser until XP systems can be upgraded.

No word yet on how long it will take for a fix to be released for newer versions of Windows.

Windows XP End of Support

Many of you have heard by now that Windows XP is approaching its “End of Support” date, April 8. A few of you have asked how this will affect your current Windows XP installations and how quickly you need to plan upgrades.

First, don’t panic. The End of Support means only that new security updates will no longer be provided by Microsoft through Windows Update. In the short run, therefore, there will be little impact. As time goes on, however, it will become increasingly important to upgrade or, more likely due to the age of current installations, replace Windows XP computers with new ones running Windows 7 or Windows 8. I recommend planning to complete these upgrades/replacements over the course of the next year.

Most of you have only a few Windows XP installations left, so the impact will be fairly minimal and can be folded into the usual PC replacement cycle. In rare cases there may be critical software on an XP machine that cannot be installed on a later version of Windows. In that case, there are still options. For instance, we could take the computer offline and use it without an Internet connection, or transition the software to a virtual machine to isolate it from other workstations. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to go over any of these possibilities.

CryptoLocker Ransomware on Rampage

An increasing number of infections have been reported from the relatively new CryptoLocker malware, which encrypts files and holds them for ransom. Unlike previous ransomware, CryptoLocker makes its targeted files legitimately unrecoverable and also appears to honour ransoms by decrypting the files when paid (at least for now).

Naked Security has a pretty accessible overview of what CryptoLocker does and how to avoid infection. The primary vector appears to be email attachments, so please be particularly vigilant and do not open attachments unless you are certain of their contents.

Windows RT Hacked to Run Desktop Applications

Microsoft’s lightweight version of Windows 8 for tablets and ultra-low-end PCs, Windows RT, has apparently been hacked to allow desktop applications to run, albeit only those compiled for the ARM platform. An article from CIO reports that a hacker known as “clrokr” has developed a method for circumventing Windows RT’s code signing restrictions. This would allow programs other than those from the Windows Store to be run, even those that use the Windows desktop rather than the new Metro UI.

A blog post by clrokr explains the technical details of the hack. The effect is that Windows RT’s “minimum signing level” is adjusted to allow programs to be run that are not digitally signed by Microsoft (or by anyone). This effect is only temporary; UEFI Secure Boot forces the change to be reverted on every reboot, so the hack would have to be reapplied each time the device is powered on. The main limitation, however, is that only software compiled for the ARM processor architecture will run.