Internet Explorer Under Attack! How To Protect Yourself From Getting Hacked

Tina Sieber 11-10-2013

If you have been using any version of Internet Explorer, you are potentially vulnerable to being hacked. The recent zero day exploit has now been patched with a critical security update released this past Tuesday. The next attack, however, is just around the corner.


Incidents such as this not only are a sound reminder to enable Windows Update and make sure all critical updates are installed immediately, it also raises the question whether there are safer options. Let us recap the events and explore what you can do to protect yourself from getting hacked in future.

What Happened To Internet Explorer?

On September 17, Microsoft announced that hackers were exploiting a previously unknown, unpatched vulnerability in all versions of Internet Explorer. While Microsoft was working on an official patch, they offered a temporary Fix it tool, which users could apply manually to protect themselves from the zero-day exploit.

Meanwhile, the announcement raised attention. Moreover, the attack code was integrated into Rapid7’s open source Metasploit penetration testing tool, making the code freely available to security professionals and cyber criminals alike. This move likely invited a surge of attacks, affecting unsuspecting users of Internet Explorer, who did not apply the security patch.

It took Microsoft three weeks to prepare a security bulletin. On October 8, Patch Tuesday, the critical security update was rolled out to fix the vulnerability on all machines that had Windows Update enabled. If Windows Update is enabled on your machine, you are safe; at least for the moment.

Enable Automatic Windows Update

The first and most important step is to enable Windows Update Windows Update: Everything You Need to Know Is Windows Update enabled on your PC? Windows Update protects you from security vulnerabilities by keeping Windows, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Office up-to-date with the latest security patches and bug fixes. Read More  because Microsoft typically offers security patches in a timely manner. Both important and recommended updates can be downloaded and installed automatically. Users who disabled Windows Update to automatically install important updates, remain vulnerable to malicious attacks until they manually apply critical security patches.


Windows Update Options

Upgrade To Latest Version Of Internet Explorer

While the recent exploit affected all versions of Internet Explorer, older versions are typically more vulnerable because they lack security features or are no longer supported by Microsoft. Presently, Internet Explorer 10 is the most recent version for Windows 7, while Windows 8 users should run Internet Explorer 11.

Both recent versions of Internet Explorer are up to par with competition. IE 10 offers significant improvements, such as a 20% speed increase over IE9. Meanwhile, IE 11 introduced novel features Surprise: Internet Explorer 11 Has Matured Into A Modern Browser Remember Internet Explorer 6? Well, Internet Explorer isn't horrible anymore. Whether you like IE or not, you can't deny that it has improved dramatically and is now worthy of taking its place alongside other modern... Read More , most notably a touch-enabled interface and the ability to sync tabs across Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone devices.

Internet Explorer 11 Interface


Run Internet Explorer In Protected Mode & High Security Level

It took Microsoft a very long time to release a patch via Windows Update for the recent security loop hole. While a Hotfix was made available immediately, it required manual user intervention. To increase protection from malicious attacks until a patch is applied, the average user running Windows 7 or 8 can enable Internet Explorer’s Protected Mode and set the security level to high.

In Windows 7, go to Start, search and open Internet Options. In Windows 8, open the Settings charm, click Settings, open the Control Panel, and find Internet Options. Switch to the Security tab and make sure Enable Protected Mode is checked for all zones. Set the security level to high for Internet and Local intranet.

Internet Properties

To access less secure features on sites you frequently visit, manually add the URLs to your Trusted sites and set the security level to medium for that zone.


Trusted Sites

Use A Different Browser

All versions combined, Internet Explorer remains the most abundantly used browser worldwide. This alone makes it a prime target for hackers. Add that it is the standard browser in many corporate environments and you can be certain that any vulnerability will be exploited rigorously as soon as it becomes known. Running the latest version under the highest security standards may not be enough to protect yourself.

While you can never be completely safe, unless you unplug the Internet, your best bet is to use a less commonly used open source browser with an active user base and developer community. Chances are you will not only be alerted of a potential security risk, the community will likely work day and night to patch the exploit as soon as possible. The first alternative that comes to mind is Firefox, the open source and cross-platform browser The Firefox Mini Review - A Fresh Look At a Familiar Browser Firefox took browsing to a whole new level. It offered a stable, open source, cross-platform browser with innovative features, such as tabs, extensions, and find as you type search. Granted, many of its features weren't... Read More that made tabbed browsing popular, but there are many more great browser for Windows Are You Really Using The Best Web Browser For Windows? Ask anyone about the best browsers in the web browsing market and you’ll likely get the following list - IE, Chrome, Firefox. Those who are more tech-savvy might list Opera as an alternative. Those are... Read More .



Run Security Software & Browse Responsibly

Last but not least, you should run software to protect your system from viruses and other malware 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer We would like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), but we all know there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked... Read More and use common sense 7 Common Sense Tips to Help You Avoid Catching Malware The Internet has made a lot possible. Accessing information and communicating with people from far away has become a breeze. At the same time, however, our curiosity can quickly lead us down dark virtual alleys... Read More when you use the computer. Software won’t always be able to fend off malicious hacking attacks, but their algorithms may detect attacks based on common patterns.

How Do You Protect Yourself From Security Exploits?

Internet Explorer is not the only entry point for malicious attacks. Any software and any operating system likely contains loop holes that are yet to be discovered. This is why it is important to install security software, regularly run updates, and stay alert.

Are you still using Internet Explorer? What measures have you taken to protect your system from vulnerabilities? What do you recommend other users to do?

Related topics: Internet Explorer, Online Security, Software Updater.

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  1. Tom S
    October 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Are some people still actually using IE ?

    • teotia
      October 14, 2013 at 9:17 am

      its funny that ie became laughing stock (till ie8 it deserved that )and I've used most of the browsers, Firefox was my favorite some 3-4 years back. then I tried chrome , opera,avant and safari but since ie9 was released I removed all these browsers though removing chrome was such a pain in the a** since then I haven't looked back,though I've tried chrome and Firefox since then but removed them just after one or two days. really ie10 is just fine, and for all those ppl who think ie still sucks I would say u guys are still living under the rock and need to accept things as they are.

  2. Nick
    October 13, 2013 at 3:50 am

    Easiest way to prevent yourself from getting hacked: Forget IE ever existed, and use something competent, like firefox, or chrome :)

    • Tina S
      October 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      Well, in that case do make sure to completely remove IE from your system. Otherwise, you may occasionally use IE accidentally or without knowing it.

  3. Akash L
    October 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Internet Explorer is the best for downloading other browsers! :D

  4. Charlie
    October 12, 2013 at 4:26 am

    One of your last questions in this article is:
    "Are you still usingn Internet Explorer?" -
    You should complete this question: "Are you NUTS?"

    • Tina S
      October 12, 2013 at 10:14 am

      LOL Thanks for the laugh!

      Seriously though, the latest versions of Internet Explorer are not that bad. IE 10 & 11 are good enough for most people. That said, other browsers are still cooler and better.

    • Ramandeep S
      October 12, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Let me add to Tina. IE 10 is fast and beautiful now but the only downside is it lacks features. Installing LastPass in it is pain. Once it gets apps/extensions and some public liking features, it will be awesome. Microsoft have to do hard work on Bing. IE can be tasty. It can be. One feature I really like in it is 'Save the background image'.

  5. Ramandeep S
    October 12, 2013 at 3:31 am

    If I don't use IE, do I still need to upgrade it? I have IE8 in Windows 7.

    • Vlado
      October 12, 2013 at 8:02 am

      Sure! You have to upgrade. Actually you are maybe using it without knowing that. Software like WinAmp and Skype for example are using IE Engine to render content.

    • Tina S
      October 12, 2013 at 10:12 am

      What Vlado said. Do update Internet Explorer to the latest version!

      Having an old, outdated piece of software installed on y our computer is a liability, especially if it's the browser that many applications will consider your default browser, regardless of your personal preferences and settings. Windows services tend to launch Internet Explorer if a browser is needed and so do a lot of other programs.

    • Ramandeep S
      October 12, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      @Vlado @Tina_S Though I don't have any application which uses IE, I will still upgrade. I'm pretty sure nothing uses IE in my computer. When I use FeedDemon I must get to IE 10.