Mozilla Warns of Firefox Security Holes

Several security vulnerabilities in Firefox and the Mozilla Suite of Internet software put users of the open-source products at risk of hacker attacks, the Mozilla Foundation is warning.

The organization released Firefox 1.0.1, which fixes 17 security flaws in the popular Web browser. The most serious flaws could allow an attacker to gain full control over a victim's PC, the Mozilla Foundation says in a statement. Firefox 1.0 was released in November and has since been downloaded more than 27 million times.

Firefox 1.0.1 also includes several fixes to guard against spoofing of Web addresses and the security indicator on Web sites. These vulnerabilities could be exploited for phishing scams, which typically use spam e-mail messages to drive people towards fraudulent Web pages that look like legitimate e-commerce sites.

One of the changes made in Firefox 1.0.1 is in the way the browser handles international domain names (IDNs). These names are now displayed differently to make it easier to spot spoofed Web sites. Because of the way Firefox displayed IDNs, it was possible to register domain names with international characters that resembled other common characters, thus tricking users into believing they were on a trusted Web site.

For protection against possible exploitation of the security flaws, users should download and install the latest version of Firefox, the Mozilla Foundation says. The organization does not offer patches to fix the problems without having to install a new browser.

Most of these flaws also affect the Mozilla Suite, which includes a Web browser, an e-mail client, Internet Relay Chat client, and Web page editor. However users of the suite are left vulnerable because no fixes are yet available. Mozilla 1.7.6, the update that fixes the issues, is due out in "a couple of weeks," according to a Mozilla Foundation spokesperson.

False Sense of Security?

The public warning of the security vulnerabilities is evidence that the Mozilla Foundation's products give a false sense of security, says Thor Larholm, a senior security researcher with PivX Solutions in Newport Beach, California.

"The only reason Mozilla and Firefox have a good track record in security with a low number of security vulnerabilities is simply because they don't tell anyone about them," Larholm says via e-mail.

"The Mozilla Foundation has fixed hundreds if not thousands of security vulnerabilities over the last few years without notifying the world and without providing security patches, instead they have simply just told their users to upgrade," he says. "We have to remember that all software has security vulnerabilities, the only difference is in how we anticipate them and inform the world about their existence."

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