You're facing a clear and present danger if, like about a third of AccountingWEB's readers, you’re using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. This isn’t just another the-sky-is-falling alert; the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued an advisory this week. The particulars of the vulnerability are a bit geeky, but the bottom line is that by using IE, you may be opening your computer to an attack.
Basically, individuals with too much time on their hands have discovered an unpatched hole that affects every version of Internet Explorer from version 11 all the way back to version 6. Microsoft is working on a fix, and has issued an interim security advisory. Ten percent of AccountingWEB readers are still using Windows XP, and we originally noted that there would be no patch forthcoming for this outdated operating system. However, Microsoft will reportedly issue an "out of band" Windows XP patch for this particular issue, but don't count on future patches for other newly discovered vulnerabilities. An upgrade to a newer operating system is still recommended.
But no matter which operating system you’re using, you should immediately stop using Internet Explorer unless you rely on a web site that requires its use. In such cases, use a dedicated computer that you use only for those web sites, and then use an alternate browser for all other Internet activity. In that regard, numerous free alternatives to Internet Explorer abound. Here’s a handful, in alphabetical order:
Install any of these browsers, accept their offer to become your default browser (you can always change later), and surf in peace—from this particular problem at least.
Meanwhile, for those of you still white-knuckling your Windows XP computer, Microsoft has an offer you shouldn’t refuse: Through June 15, 2014, you can get a $100 discount on the purchase of Windows 8 computers. To secure the discount, make an online purchase from a Windows XP computer or bring your Windows XP computer to a Microsoft retail store. Windows 8 computers start at $599 before the discount, and the word on the street is that many of the maddening features of Windows 8—such as the removal of the Start menu—will soon be rectified by forthcoming free updates.
Support for Windows XP ended on April 8, 2014, so that means that although it seems XP users dodged a bullet this time, they may not next time. By sticking with Windows XP you’re in effect giving hackers free rein to exploit your computer as they wish, if future security problems are uncovered. All IE users should install the correct patches as soon as they're available.
About the author: David Ringstrom is Tech Editor-at-Large for AccountingWEB and Going Concern. You can follow him on Twitter at @excelwriter.
David H. Ringstrom, CPA, is an author and nationally recognized instructor who teaches scores of webinars each year. His Excel courses are based on over 25 years of consulting and teaching experience. His mantra is “Either you work Excel, or it works you.” David offers spreadsheet and database consulting services nationwide.