Security Experts:

Sophos Warns of State Sponsored Attacks Against EU Companies

Security firm Sophos has issued alerts on to two separate, but related attacks, targeting a European aeronautical parts supplier and a European medical company. In each case, the attackers are using an unpatched vulnerability in Internet Explorer to target their victims.

The unpatched vulnerability was discovered by Google earlier this month.

The discovery made headlines shortly after Google said that it would begin notifying an unnamed subset of users if it is believed they are being targeted by a state-sponsored attack. A week after Google’s announcement, Microsoft issued a Security Advisory and FixIt tool that would address vulnerabilities within Microsoft XML Core Services.

Targeted State Sponsored Attacks“Microsoft is aware of active attacks that leverage a vulnerability in Microsoft XML Core Services 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0. The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted webpage using Internet Explorer... The vulnerability affects all supported releases of Microsoft Windows, and all supported editions of Microsoft Office 2003 and Microsoft Office 2007,” the advisory sates.

While Sophos’ headlines may be somewhat overhyped, the fact that they discovered two separate domains in the EU that were compromised and leveraging the same exploit is noteworthy.

“We are continuing to try work with both the user who inadvertently visited the website and the hacked website's owner, and will update you when we can release more information,” Sophos explained.

For now, Sophos and Microsoft strongly urge administrators and home users to deploy the mitigations and FixIt tool, in order to address the issue. A patch for the vulnerability is expected to be released in July.

“We know that a tried-and-trusted method of hacking into large companies and organisations is to target the supply chain. The theory goes that rather than try to hack a company which may have robust security practices and security teams, the bad actor can instead attack a smaller supplier who are less well placed to notice the security breach,” Sophos’s Graham Cluley added.

“Although security software can protect against this vulnerability, let's hope that Microsoft can release a proper patch sooner rather than later.”

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.