Bennett Adelson Technical Blog

Bennett Adelson Technical Blog

Microsoft to start blocking out of date ActiveX controls in Internet Explorer


As we all know some of the most obvious paths into the system through the browser is through out of date ActiveX controls like old versions of Java and Flash, among others. While many enterprises may still have a need to run old versions of Java for their line of business app that they just can’t get upgraded, this leaves their user and systems vulnerable to malware written to take advantage of those old, unpatched versions. I had a customer not too long ago that had to have the older version of Java 1.6 for a time keeping system. Every time I would go in and review their SCEP logs I would see JAVA vulnerabilities at the top of the list and many systems infected to a point that they had to reimage them.

Microsoft has recognized this and is implementing a patch to Internet Explorer 8 and newer that will implement functionality to identify a list of known ActiveX controls (from a hosted definition file at Microsoft) and if not in the Local Intranet or Trusted sites zone, will display a pop-up bar notifying the user the ActiveX control has been blocked and that they should upgrade it to the latest. IT Pros will be able to manage this experience, as well as make sure their line-of-business applications are in the correct zones. To aid in this, there are new ADM templates available so that GPOs can be created to assist in configuring this.

While Microsoft was looking to implement the blocking functionality this week, we have some reprieve from the feedback heard from the community and provided an update yesterday that they will initially just be warning on old ActiveX controls for 30 days before the blocking goes into effect. This give IT Pros like you about 30 days to address this. While you can read more here (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ie/archive/2014/08/06/internet-explorer-begins-blocking-out-of-date-ActiveX-controls.aspx), I see a few options available to you:

Upgrade or replace your application to work with the latest ActiveX control

I am pretty sure this will not be the immediate option since this most likely requires a budget, time, and resources to implement before the deadline and I have seen approvals for projects take longer than that. This is the best option though since it only takes one system to get infected from a vulnerability to bring an enterprise down.

Look to moving your applications into the proper security zones in IE

I have worked many customers who did not know how to manage security zones in IE (or even why it was important) and open their Internet zone up to enable their line-of-business apps/websites to run. I feel this is worse than any outdated ActiveX issue since every bit of code on the web gets the same open access the LOB app did. I recommend that if you aren’t familiar with zones, make an effort to do so and use them. Then look to moving your outdated application to a zone that allows it to run.

Temporarily block the IE update

If you manage your IE settings already and manage updates to your systems, you may have the ability to prevent the update from installing. While this is definitely a short term workaround, it would at least prevent the blocking aspect of the patch from taking effect until you have had time to implement a zones workaround or application upgrade. This is technically feasible but I have not tried it to verify.

Use a different browser

While I see this happening more and more because of other compatibility issues with IE, this is an option if you are dead set on keeping that old application and cannot move it to an appropriate security zone or manage it. This still may not be an option because many of those older apps were written to work with older versions of IE as well.

Whatever you choose, I wish you well in keeping your line-of-business apps working and hopefully this is a step from Microsoft towards a safer surfing experience for your users.

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