If this article at SearchSecurity.com is correct then Vista’s security system has been rendered moot for folks who insist on using Internet Explorer:
In a presentation at the Black Hat briefings, Mark Dowd of IBM Internet Security Systems (ISS) and Alexander Sotirov, of VMware Inc. will discuss the new methods they’ve found to get around Vista protections such as Address Space Layout Randomization(ASLR), Data Execution Prevention (DEP) and others by using Java, ActiveX controls and .NET objects to load arbitrary content into Web browsers.
By taking advantage of the way that browsers, specifically Internet Explorer, handle active scripting and .NET objects, the pair have been able to load essentially whatever content they want into a location of their choice on a user’s machine.
Researchers who have read the paper that Dowd and Sotirov wrote on the techniques say their work is a major breakthrough and there is little that Microsoft can do to address the problems. The attacks themselves are not based on any new vulnerabilities in IE or Vista, but instead take advantage of Vista’s fundamental architecture and the ways in which Microsoft chose to protect it.
“The genius of this is that it’s completely reusable,” said Dino Dai Zovi, a well-known security researcher and author. “They have attacks that let them load chosen content to a chosen location with chosen permissions. That’s completely game over.
“What this means is that almost any vulnerability in the browser is trivially exploitable,” Dai Zovi added. “A lot of exploit defenses are rendered useless by browsers. ASLR and hardware DEP are completely useless against these attacks.”
I doubt that there’s truly little Microsoft can do about the problem, but the solutions involved might be unpalatable to their business goals (e.g. drop ActiveX altogether). The attack appears to rely on Internet Explorer specifically so one possible solution for Vista users is to switch to a different browser such as Firefox or Safari. Which, really, they probably should do anyway.
What’s more interesting is the conclusion of the article:
Dai Zovi stressed that the techniques Dowd and Sotirov use do not rely on specific vulnerabilities. As a result, he said, there may soon be similar techniques applied to other platforms or environments.
“This is not insanely technical. These two guys are capable of the really low-level technical attacks, but this is simple and reusable,” Dai Zovi said. “I definitely think this will get reused soon, sort of like heap spraying was.”
Unless those other platforms are running Internet Explorer and ActiveX I’m not sure how they’d be vulnerable, but then the article doesn’t go into great detail on exactly what the hack involves. Microsoft has said their aware of the presentation and are interested in looking at it more closely once it’s made public.