What the Heck is Going On (Another IE Security Hole, Among Other Things)

by William Grosso

Related link: http://news.com.com/2100-7355_3-5119440.html?tag=nefd_top

Ever have one of those days where it feels like the universe is distintegrating around you? Ever feel like a Roman, staring out over the city walls at the vast teeming hordes of barbarians?

Item: I already get 200 or so spams a day. Enough that, even with filtering, e-mail's become much less useful.

Item: I've already blocked Windows Messages, because of Windows Messaging Spam

Item: In the past month, I've noticed a dramatic upswing in AOL Spam, even though I haven't exposed my IM id any more than usual. At this point, roughly once an hour while I'm on IM, "Aimee 12779" (or the equivalent fake address) sends me an enthusiastic IM about sex with farm animals (or similar topics).

Item: Bruce Schneier is speculating that the MSBlaster virus might have helped sink the power grid back in August.

And now:, Secunia is saying "Don't follow links from untrusted sources."

My first reaction when I heard Secunia's advice was "Ummm. Yeah. That's advice I can follow."

But it raises an interesting question.... We already have ways to turn off "adult content" in google. Maybe there's a way to tune search engines to only return trustworthy links.

If I hand you a link, could you tell me whether you would follow it?

What makes a link trustworthy? My first guess is that, if a link's been there a long time, it's more likely to be safe.
Links on pages that are part of large sites are more likely to be safe, as are links on pages that come from large companies?

But what else? What determines whether a link is trustworthy? And is detecting "links you don't trust" really any different to, or harder than, detecting spam?

What other parameters are there for determining link trustworthiness?


2003-12-11 01:45:19
Same as spam
Well basically if the link appears to be deliberatly confusing or content free, much the same way that links in spam and virii are then I wont touch it.
2003-12-11 04:26:05
Trustworthy Links
The most general answer is Context, all the criteria you mentioned are context based.

How about Metadata? If we had a way to attach metadata to links, that would help. Then we could use Bayesian filters built in to the browser to analyse the metadata, or something.

Does XML have a standard way of attaching metadata to links?

Simon Hibbs

2003-12-11 07:06:01
Don't use what hackers expect you to
For this exploit (and every other browser-borne issue I can recall), an easy way to dodge it is to use Mozilla or, more recently, Firebird. Fake URLs begone!

For the Window's messenging, well, there's no such flaw in Mac OS X (I realize I'm being overly simplistic here and many *must* use Windows, but give OS X another thought. User-friendly *NIX!).

For AOL-AIM, you've got me. I've never gotten any spam, but that sure stinks. Sounds like an opportunity for one of the AIM competitors to spam-block IMs (Trillian, Gaim, Adium, etc).

For plain email spam, um, get a better mail handler. ;^) Hrm, the suggestions are getting less helpful by the minute.

Anyhow, give Mozilla/Firebird a try and see if things don't get better.

2003-12-11 07:47:16
Why not switch to linux?
Its more secure so at least some of your problems will be taken care of.
2003-12-11 08:49:47
Don't use what hackers expect you to
Here, here!

Why use IE (if you're stuck with Windows), and why use Windows if you have freedom of choice? Remove Microsoft from the equation and the problems disappear to a great extent.

This reply written from MozillaFirebird on WinXP (forced to use at work).

2003-12-11 10:53:30
Why use IE at all?
Really. This is not a troll.

Think about it. Let's say you bought a car, and you ended up having to bring it in for recall repairs at least once a month. No matter how many recalls you encounter and how much work the manufacturer performs on your car, it's still faulty.

Would you buy another car from this company? Or would you switch to another manufacturer?

So why do people stubbornly cling to IE/Outlook when better alternatives exist?

Again, this is not a troll.

2003-12-11 14:54:50
Why not switch to linux?
because the are no general productivy apps?

and please don't tell me gimp == photoshop...

2003-12-11 16:56:55
Why not switch to linux?

Well...there are some "general equivelence" apps out there, but they haven't got the same features as "the big boys." Come on, it's not even close. GIMP vs Photoshop? Photoshop has been in development FOR YEARS by people who work in the movie industry (John Dykstra helped, if I'm not mistaken), people who KNOW what a graphics app needs to do. It's their bread and butter, after all.

My whole response to every single "mac is better than windows" or "linux is better than sliced bread" or "macs or so great they'll even wipe your butt for you" debate is this: it all depends on what you do with it. That's it, that's the end of the argument.

If someone's grandma wants email to talk to her grandkids half a world away and a web browser to look up recipes over a dialup line, why should she spend $3000 for an iMac? Does she need to spend the time to build a whitebox and install Red Hat? Why bother when she can just go to a CompUSA, pick up a $600 Compaq and that's the end of it.

All this arguing about which OS is better (macs don't crash - BS, linux doesn't crash - BS) just makes me shake my head, get up from my chair and grab a beer. Like I'm going to do right now...

2003-12-12 01:06:38
Umm.. yeah

IE has been one of the many Swiss cheese components in the Microsoft family for many years now, this is nothing new -- SSDD.

I honestly can't fathom why anyone would be using IE at this point for their daily browsing. IE lacks features, it's aesthetically displeasing and it's mired in its own sea of security issues.

It is rare to find software that is entirely devoid to security issues, but the fact is Microsoft products are riddled with egregious security issues.

The argument that "It's because we're the most popular software" is and has been completely false for a long time ( see also: Apache having more usage share than IIS and far fewer bugs with the source code open for perusal ). People don't even have source to Microsoft software and are quite adept at finding security issues of a variety of nature, which speaks volumes.

There are very clear-cut security methodologies that could prevent a lot of the majority of issues from ending up as an uninformed user decision ( browers and mail clients ), however since most of these technologies are embedded firmly in the core of Microsoft's junk what you end up getting is all these trickle-down patches that don't add up to intelligent security practices.

Here's some advice: Don't use Microsoft's products.

2003-12-12 02:07:56
Why use IE at all?
"So why do people stubbornly cling to IE/Outlook when better alternatives exist?"

Exactly. That's the point. Why do they use it? I don't have any answer to this. It's so stupid and irrealistic.

Just shaking my head every day...

2003-12-12 06:14:15
Why not switch to linux?
You're kidding? $3000 for an iMac? You're shopping the wrong sites because the entry-level iMac is $1,299 at the Apple Store and the nearly as capable eMac retails for $799.

The problem with just getting a Compaq is that she's now part of the problem since she'll probably not change a single setting on Windows and she probably won't update with the myriad security patches.

At least with the [i|e]Mac, she won't be spreading viruses and worms.

2003-12-12 06:37:52
Why not switch to linux?
You're right, that grandma doesn't need an iMac, she should be using a Linux box so she doesn't have to be propositioned about animal sex and scammed by alarmist pop-up adds and spyware.

Furthermore, The GIMP has been in development 'FOR YEARS' too, and has been developed by people in the film industry, there's even a version called CinePaint (nee FilmGimp) used to help create Harry Potter and Planet of the Apes amongst others.

Even Disney has looked at switching their animators to use The Gimp. They decided it wasn't quite ready so their animators will continue using Adobe Photoshop. However, they will be running it on Linux (and you can too) as Disney paid the Crossover Office developers to add Photoshop 7.0 support to their product.

2003-12-12 09:23:01
Why not switch to linux?
Point taken - I think it's wonderful and extremely cool that hollywood workshops like Weta and Pixar and LucasFilm and the like render almost exclusively on Linux / Sun / AMD boxes; cost effective, insanely powerful clusters - how can the Wintel world compete with that? Short answer is, they can't. It's difficult to beat "free" and "extensible" with "insanely expensive" and "closed source."

Grandma's and Linux - will there be a time when these two markets converge and make beautiful love together? Will my grandma know how to recompile the kernel everytime KDE crashes? I sure hope so.

Which brings me to something slightly off-topic; I must be running some funky hardware because I've installed Red Hat, SuSe, Corel Linux, Mandrake, etc. at one time or another on various boxes and really...they're not terribly fast. Not any faster than Windows on the same boxes, anyway. They also crashed a whole hell of a lot. KDE especially. Not that Windows didn't either, but I expected some kind of "miracle OS" from all the Linux hype.

Anyway, my only point is this: Every OS sucks for one reason or another, it's just a matter of what you're willing to put up with. Most people put up with Windows and it's issues because it's common, easy to use (relatively - if it wasn't, how come it's so popular...besides BGates' pact with Satan, I mean).

2003-12-12 09:33:13
Why not switch to linux?
I guess "exageration to prove a point" is lost on some...I know iMacs don't retail for $3000. However, common perception is that macs are more expensive than PCs. Largely because they are in most cases. Granted you're paying for quality, but they're still more expensive. So whatever.

"The problem with just getting a Compaq is that she's now part of the problem"

Hmmm...isn't that a bit like saying "the problem with getting alcohol is that [you're] now part of the drinking problem in America?"

Microsoft has a lot of problems with their software - lots of stuff is turned on by default that doesn't need to be, there are security problems in most common protocols (RPC, anyone? And after all that Blaster worm stuff, who in their right mind thought RPC over HTTP is a good idea???), that's true. It just seems to be the most viable option for a lot of people, for whatever reasons.

If it wasn't, a lot more people would be using Apple hardware.

2003-12-13 15:56:00
Why not switch to linux?
Note I wasn't talking about render farms, which of course will all be running Linux soon, but artists creating digital content using Linux desktops, which common 'wisdom' suggests would not be the case.

Furthermore, if you can't set up a Linux box for a grandmother who needs to A) email and B) surf the net without her having to recompile the kernel or suffer constant crashing then just give up, accept that you aren't technically gifted, and buy a Lindows PC from Walmart for $200.

I'm not going to guarantee that things will run 'faster than Windows' out-of-the-box, but I know for a fact that it will run faster than a Windows box that has been set up and used on the internet for a short time by a non-technical person and is therefore bogged down with 57 varieties of spyware, infected with viruses and helping to commit DDOS attacks.

2003-12-14 14:21:20
Always Microsoft
Is a bug or a feature? Always the same question. I'm don't think those bug arrive in software that way, since the I Love You virus passing by the Blaster RPC (remote control for other computer) and now some false address in the IE. All of those bug can make have probably make some people money. Yes money, today we're on information technology era and Yes info worth money.
2003-12-17 05:06:19
Don't use what hackers expect you to

Well, exactly. That's part of the "biodiversity is good" argument. The Microsoft monculture might be convenient standardization to some people but it is also the best way for virii and worms to run like wildfire through the population. The best of all worlds might be 1/3 Microsoft, 1/3 Mac and a 1/3 linux.

That came home to me in the 90s when I was running OS/2 at home, did a command-line virus check in the background, and lazily got around to the logs about once a month. "Gee, wonder how long I've had that Microsoft root partition boot sector virus. Oh well, isn't like it is _doing_ anything." (OS/2 had a separate boot partition like linux.) Avoiding the bullet has been about that easy for me the last eight years or so by using OS/2 and then linux instead of Windows.