Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


06:00 AM
Connect Directly

ZERT Issues 'Stopgap' IE Patch

Nonprofit group steps in as latest Internet Explorer attack spreads and users await Microsoft's official patch

If you're still not worried about the latest zero-day attack that's hitting Internet Explorer, maybe you should be. Amid increasingly dire warnings from SANS and other organizations that this could be the next WMF, the Zeroday Emergency Response Team (ZERT) considered it urgent enough to release the first patch for the VML browser bug -- before Microsoft.

ZERT, a nonprofit group made up of prominent security researchers from the vendor and research communities, says it releases these types of patches when zero-day exploits appear to be a serious risk to the public and/or the Internet. That's a time when you just can't wait for the vendor's patch, according to ZERT.

The free patch fixes a flaw in IE that causes a buffer overflow in Microsoft's Vector Graphics Rendering Language (VML) engine that lets an attacker take over a machine. Outlook is also susceptible to this exploit. Microsoft has said it will patch the vulnerability between now and the next Patch Tuesday, October 10.

Randy Abrams, director of technical education for ESET and the former operations manager for Microsoft's Global Infrastructure Alliance for Internet Safety, says Microsoft doesn't -- and can't -- approve third-party patches. It's really a matter of ZERT being able to issue a patch more quickly, he says. Abrams isn't a member of ZERT but works with a group of researchers that belong to ZERT.

"The odds of ZERT causing problems is probably pretty low, but Microsoft has to test against well over a dozen languages, a large number of combinations of Windows versions and applications, and for compatibility with third party apps," he says. "If ZERT's patch breaks, it is a problem. But if the Microsoft patch breaks, then it is magnified exponentially and people start doing stupid things like refusing all patches."

Abrams admits third-party patching is risky business, but then so is going unpatched. "Ultimately, a person should evaluate their risk level and decide upon a third-party patch from a standpoint of knowledge." The rule of thumb should be to use a vendor's patch when it becomes available, he says.

"The patch is a stopgap," Abrams says. "When Microsoft releases its patch, it would be prudent to apply it. Microsoft's patch is supported; ZERT's is not."

So who will grab this patch in the meantime? "Cowboy sys admins," says researcher HD Moore, or "small organizations where a ruinous patch deployment isn't that big of a deal."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • ESET Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

    Recommended Reading:

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
    Dark Reading Staff 8/3/2020
    Pen Testers Who Got Arrested Doing Their Jobs Tell All
    Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  8/5/2020
    New 'Nanodegree' Program Provides Hands-On Cybersecurity Training
    Nicole Ferraro, Contributing Writer,  8/3/2020
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Cartoon Contest
    Current Issue
    Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
    This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
    Flash Poll
    The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
    The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
    This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
    In JetBrains YouTrack before 2020.2.6881, the markdown parser could disclose hidden file existence.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
    In JetBrains YouTrack before 2020.2.6881, a user without permission is able to create an article draft.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
    JetBrains YouTrack before 2020.2.8873 is vulnerable to SSRF in the Workflow component.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
    In JetBrains Kotlin before 1.4.0, there is a script-cache privilege escalation vulnerability due to kotlin-main-kts cached scripts in the system temp directory, which is shared by all users by default.
    PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
    In JetBrains TeamCity before 2020.1, users with the Modify Group permission can elevate other users' privileges.