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Microsoft Secure


Years ago, Java exploits were a primary attack vector for many attackers looking to infect systems, but more recently, Adobe Flash Player took that mantle.

After accounting for almost half of object detections during some quarters in 2014, Java applets on malicious pages decreased to negligible levels by the end of 2015, owing to a number of changes that have been made to both Java and Internet Explorer over the past two years.

In January 2014, Java Runtime Environment was updated to require all applets running in browsers to be digitally signed by default. Later that year, Microsoft published updates for Internet Explorer versions 8 through 11 that began blocking out-of-date ActiveX controls. Windows 10’s default browser, Microsoft Edge, does not support Java or Active X at all, and other browsers like Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox are doing the same.

With defenses against Java attacks gaining the upper hand, Flash Player objects have become the most commonly detected threat hosted on malicious web pages by an overwhelming margin. This type of exploit has led the way in each of the past four quarters, from a low of 93.3 percent in the first quarter of 2015, to an all-time high of 99.2 percent last fall.

Adobe Flash

While this information may be unsettling for security teams whose web sites and applications rely on Flash functionality, it’s clearly an important piece of intelligence. Knowing where attackers are targeting their cyber threats makes it easier to plan mitigations to defend against malicious web pages. It also illustrates the importance of keeping your full technology stack – including Adobe Flash Player – updated. And fortunately, as with Java, modern browser mitigations are beginning to turn the tide against Flash exploits as well.

Both Internet Explorer 11 and Microsoft Edge on Windows 10 help mitigate many web-based attacks. For example, Internet Explorer 11 benefits from IExtension Validation, which can help defend against Adobe Flash malware.

Real-time security software can implement IExtension Validation to block ActiveX controls from loading malicious pages. When Internet Explorer loads a webpage that includes ActiveX controls, the browser calls the security software to scan the HTML and script content on the page before loading the controls themselves. If the security software determines that the page is malicious (for example, if it identifies the page as an exploit kit landing page), it can direct Internet Explorer to prevent individual controls or the entire page from loading.

For a thorough analysis on the state of malware in the latter half of 2015, take a look at our latest Security Intelligence Report. And for a high-level look at the top ten trends and stats that matter most to security professionals right now, be sure and download our 2016 Trends in Cybersecurity e-book.