An independent researcher needed just 15 minutes to find the first bug in the Beta 2 preview release of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 browser.
Tom Ferris, of Mission Viejo, California, published his findings Tuesday just hours after Microsoft released the beta code. His findings are posted at http://www.security-protocols.com/advisory/sp-x23-advisory.txt. Ferris discovered the bug, which causes Internet Explorer (IE) to crash when it tries to read a specially crafted HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) file, using an automated security testing tool, called a "fuzzer" that he wrote to test Microsoft's browsers.
"Whenever they patch, I normally run IE through the fuzzing iterations, just to see if there [is something new]," he said. Ferris posted his findings at 8:30 p.m. Pacific time on Tuesday, the same day IE Beta 2 was released, he said.
Right now the bug can be exploited only to crash the browser, but Ferris says it's likely that his attack could eventually be modified to run unauthorized code on a user's machine.
The vulnerability appears to be exclusive to Internet Explorer Beta 2 browser, he said. "This is a completely new bug. I've never actually seen this in any browser before."
Microsoft was not immediately able to comment on Ferris's findings. A spokeswoman for the company's public relations agency said Microsoft is "looking into this."
Ferris has previously discovered bugs in the Firefox and Safari browsers, as well as in Windows XP, but even he was surprised at the quickness with which this latest vulnerability popped up.
Ferris's discovery is one of the quickest such bug-findings on record, said Mikko Hypponen, manager of antivirus research at F-Secure in Helsinki. "It's probably the fastest from launch to exploit that I've ever heard about," he said.
Microsoft spent millions to improve its software development process to make it more secure. The company has promoted Internet Explorer Beta 2 as a more secure product. But Ferris believes that his research shows that the software giant still has work to do in this area.
"I think that they're still lacking very common security testing methods. I looked at it for 15 minutes and I was able to find a clean bug," he said. "They still have a lot of work to do."