PC users running Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, 8 or 9 as their default browser are being advised to stop using it immediately following the discovery of a critical vulnerability that could allow hackers to take over their computers.
The vulnerability, which was only revealed two days ago by researcher Eric Roman on the Rapid7 Metasploit project, has already been exploited by a “small number of attackers”, according to Microsoft. The company is said to be franticly working on a security patch to fix the issue, but so far it has not said when this is likely to be released.
Metasploit, as well as the German government and other security experts, are urgently advising users to switch to a different browser until Microsoft can release a security patch for IE. Approximately 48.75% of PC users worldwide use IE as their default browser, meaning that almost half of all PCs are at risk.
What’s the risk?
According to Microsoft, the vulnerability in IE means that hackers can easily execute malware in your PC by taking advantage of corrupted system memory. By doing so hackers could gain full control over any PC they attack, and would have the ability to do everything from install or delete programs, browse files, create new accounts and so on.
The only way it’s possible to fall victim to hackers using this exploit is by visiting a website that’s hosting malware. Unfortunately, this is easily done, as hundreds of PC users are tricked into visiting such sites on a daily basis, through emails or links sent via social media.
What should you do?
Despite what the Germans are saying, Microsoft claims that PC users can mitigate the risk by employing a workaround whilst they rush to get a security patch out to the masses. They advise downloading the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit v3.0, then setting IE’s security level to “High”. In addition, Microsoft advises users to disable Active Scripting to further minimize the risk.
To be completely safe however, it’s probably better to ignore everything Microsoft says and instead ditch IE altogether. Alternative browsers you can use include major players like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera, or else if you’re feeling curious at all, now might even be a good time to try out some of these, lesser known browsers.