Despite the fact that Microsoft’s legacy browser is no longer in use, its relics and lingering dangers are not going anywhere.
INTERNET EXPLORER, the company’s venerable and increasingly infamous web browser, will be shut down by Microsoft on Wednesday after years of decline and a final wind-down over the past 13 months. For nearly two decades, Internet Explorer was preinstalled on Windows computers, making it difficult for users to upgrade and move on when it was time to do so. Despite the recent milestone, security researchers stress that IE and its numerous security flaws are not yet extinct.
Microsoft plans to remove the Internet Explorer app from Windows 10 devices in the near future, in favor of its 2015-released Edge browser. Users will still be able to access old websites built for Internet Explorer, however, thanks to a service called “IE mode” in Edge. IE mode will be supported by Microsoft until at least 2029, according to the company. Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and Windows Server with Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates will continue to support IE for the time being, but Microsoft says it will eventually phase out support for IE in these operating systems as well.
Seven years after the launch of Edge, industry analysis suggests that Internet Explorer may still hold a share of the global browser market of more than 0.5 percent. As a matter of fact, in the United States, that figure could be as high as 2 percent.
Tokazowski, a longtime independent malware researcher and principal threat advisor at the cybersecurity firm Cofense, believes “we’ve made progress, and we probably won’t see as many exploits against IE in the future, but we will still have remnants of Internet Explorer for a long time that scammers can take advantage of.” “Internet Explorer as a browser will no longer exist, but there are still a number of components that can still be used.”
In the case of IE, which has been around for more than a decade, backwards compatibility can be difficult to achieve. Sean Lyndersay, the general manager of Microsoft Edge Enterprise, wrote in an IE retrospective on Wednesday: “We haven’t forgotten that some parts of the web still rely on Internet Explorer’s specific behaviors and features.”
In spite of this, he insisted that a new version of Edge was needed, not IE. The web and browsers have evolved together, he wrote last week. We had to start from scratch because incremental improvements to Internet Explorer couldn’t keep up with the overall improvements to the web.
There are some Windows versions that Microsoft says are still “used in critical environments,” but the company says it will continue to support IE’s underlying browser engine, known as “MSHTML.” In real-world attacks, however, hackers are still exploiting IE vulnerabilities, according to Maddie Stone, a researcher with Google’s Project Zero team.
The number of Internet Explorer 0-days has been fairly consistent since we started tracking them in the wild.” Even though Internet Explorer’s market share of web browser users continues to decline, we’ve tracked the most in-the-wild Internet Explorer 0-days we’ve ever seen,” she wrote in April, referring to previously unknown vulnerabilities, known as zero-days. If the user does not use Internet Explorer as their internet browser, Internet Explorer is still a viable entry point into a Windows machine.”
According to Stone’s analysis, while the number of new IE vulnerabilities Project Zero has discovered has remained fairly constant, attackers have increasingly targeted the MSHTML browser engine through malicious files like tainted Office documents. This could imply that removing IE from the equation will have little effect on current attack patterns.
Microsoft and Internet Explorer users around the world have come a long way given how difficult it has been to rein in Internet Explorer at all. IE, on the other hand, is still very much alive, despite its reputation as a “dead” browser.
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