In his blog posting, Larholm said the bug was similar to a flaw he'd discovered last month in Apple Inc.'s Safari 3.0 beta software, and he called it an an "input validation flaw in Internet Explorer." The problem is with a URL protocol handler component of Internet Explorer, he said. This software allows Internet Explorer users to launch applications such as Excel or Firefox by clicking on specially written links on Web pages.
When Internet Explorer clicks on a link that launches the Firefox browser, however, the software does not properly check its syntax, and that, Larholm said, lets an attacker create a malicious link, that could be used in an attack. Security vendor Secunia ApS rates the flaw as "highly critical."
So while the flaw affects Internet Explorer users, it appears to be a risk only to those who already have Firefox installed. And to make matters more complicated, if a Firefox user were to click on one of the specially-written links, he would not be affected.
Still, Microsoft Corp. Security Program Manager Mark Griesi said that the bug was not his company's problem. "We don't feel that there's an issue in IE and therefore there's nothing to be fixed," he said Tuesday.
With Microsoft saying it won't fix the vulnerability, Mozilla Corp. said it would change the way its Firefox URL protocol handler worked in its next Firefox update. That will fix Larholm's bug, but Mozilla security strategist Window Snyder [cq] wouldn't say whether or not she considered the vulnerability to be an IE or Firefox problem. She did, however, point out that without Microsoft making changes to IE, other Windows programs may be at risk.
But another security expert said that the responsibility to fix the problem lies with the open-source browser developers. "This is an oversight in how Mozilla decided to construct their protocol registration, and how they do input validation between this handler and their application," said Eric Schultze, chief security architect with Shavlik Technologies LLC, via email. "I think Mozilla needs to write and release a patch for this issue and Microsoft can take the week off."