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Date: Thu, 6 Nov 2003 00:25:05 +0100
From: Florian Weimer <>
To: Thor Larholm <>
Cc: Liu Die Yu <>,
Subject: Re: Six Step IE Remote Compromise Cache Attack

Thor Larholm wrote:

> This post raises an interesting question. Is our goal to find new
> vulnerabilities and attack vectors to help secure users and critical
> infrastructures, or is our goal to ease exploitation of existing
> vulnerabilities?

With Internet Explorer, Microsoft is exactly in the position that was
the original motivation for full disclosure -- force the vendor to fix
the bugs.  The reasons are different (very risk-prone design; for
example, any ActiveX control can break the entire security policy), and
Microsoft isn't ignoring the problems altogether.  But the end result is
nearly the same: lot's of unfixed, more-or-less well-known bugs.

You can deal with this situation in a few ways: ignore it, and hope for
the best; try to surpress information about vulnerability details;
choose safer settings (breaking many, many web pages); prevent users
from browsing the web using Internet Explorer (with or without disabling
plugins of questionable code quality, i.e. all of them); gamble with
virus scanners and special proxies; restrict Web access to separate
terminals, and so on.

However, none of these approaches makes the problem go away.  I still
believe that the client is lost, and will remain lost for quite some
time.  As far as I know, this view isn't shared by Microsoft engineers.
They reason that the company  is pretty good at patch management, much
better than the competition.  Maybe Microsoft has a true advantage over
the rest of the industry here (I wouldn't rule out that possibility),
but in the best case, your patch management is only as good as the
patches you can apply.   If the developers have to deal with a
substantial backlog of unfixed security issues, both published and
unpublished, it's not very likely that the right patches are available
in time.  So far, we have been rather lucky.

Note that this discussion completely ignores the poor, poor home users.
I have no idea how the situation can be improved for them, in particular
if they run illegal software copies and fear to download and apply any
vendor patches.

> Believe me, I am all in for full disclosure and detailing every aspect
> of a vulnerability to prevent future occurances of similar threats, but
> I don't particularly think that we should actively be trying to help
> malicious persons.

I understand your concern, and share it in some cases, especially if I
assume that most people are already sensitive to the threat.  I don't
see that for Internet Explorer, so further education seems to be
necessary, even if it takes rather drastic forms.

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