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ActiveX definition

ActiveX is an object-oriented programming tool developed by Microsoft for Internet Explorer to facilitate rich media playback. The Internet Explorer employs ActiveX to load different software applications in the browser. Like Java, ActiveX is based on Microsoft’s OLE and COM technologies. Its components can be written in many programming languages. Many applications can re-use ActiveX components. Unfortunately, attackers can re-use the components and run malicious code to access critical files. Moreover, ActiveX is a risky tool due to its vulnerabilities, like automatic downloads and lack of sandboxing.

See also: spyware, anti-malware, smurf attack

Main ActiveX security issues

Attackers can exploit ActiveX vulnerabilities to perform malicious activities, such as installing malware, gaining control of the user's system, or performing other unauthorized activities.

Compatibility Issues: ActiveX controls were designed especially for Internet Explorer, which means it's not supported by other browsers in the market. That means it poses a risk for the systems using older Internet Explorer versions.

Drive-by Downloads: Controls in ActiveX are downloaded and installed without users’ consent, which means they can be easily used for drive-by download attacks. Visiting malicious websites can lead to automatic downloads and malicious ActiveX installations.

Lack of Sandboxing: ActiveX controls interact with the operating system and can perform various actions due to extensive privileges. This lack of sandboxing can lead to potential harm if malicious control actions are executed.

How to avoid risks associated with ActiveX

  • You should regularly update your browser and ActiveX controls to have the latest security patches.
  • It’s necessary to disable the prompt for ActiveX in web browsers.
  • Employ alternative technologies equipped with better security, like HTML5 and JavaScript.
  • Having network-level security is advisable. Firewalls and threat protection tools come in handy, as they help to detect or block malicious ActiveX controls.