Using IE6 was "unsafe" 284 days last year even for users who patched their systems as soon as Microsoft released fixes. An analysis by the Washington Post's Brian Krebs revealed that exploit code for critical unpatched flaws in IE6 was available for three-quarters of the time last year.
Even worse, for at least 98 days last year no patches were available for flaws that were been actively exploited by hackers to steal personal data. Firefox users, by comparison, were exposed to critical, unpatched flaws that were actively exploited for just nine days last year. This single period of exposure compares to multiple overlapping periods of vulnerability faced by IE6 users.
IE7 promises improved security for surfers, at least in theory, but its release in November came too late in the year to significantly alter the threat landscape, Krebs notes.
Unpatched software vulnerabilities grew in prevalence last year and the problem is far from confined to Microsoft, still less IE, even though the software giant remains a prime target for attack. A helpful chart from the SANS Institute gives a snapshot of unpatched Microsoft bugs, three of the most serious of which involve vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word.
In related news, Microsoft announced that it would be releasing eight software fixes (three involving Office and at least one of which is critical) as part of its regular monthly patch update cycle next Tuesday (January 8). It remains to be seen whether these fixes will resolve the Word flaws, which have been left flapping since early December.®