Microsoft Fails to Fend Off Browser-Virus Backlash

Software Giant Quick to Fix Internet Explorer Problem, But Bloggers Unappeased

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YORK, Pa. ( -- Microsoft issued a software patch today for a nasty Internet Explorer virus and informed people immediately, but it still might have suffered some brand damage.

While Microsoft has been unusually open about the latest so-called "Zero Day" virus and -- as Microsoft Watch blogger Joe Wilcox wrote -- "surprisingly quick" to come up with a patch, the software giant nonetheless received hefty negative backlash in the tech and online press.

ZDNet blogger Zach Whittaker asked, "Has Internet Explorer ever been safe?" in a post about the virus, while The Washington Post's computer-security blogger suggested readers "consider browsing the web with anything other than Internet Explorer." PCWorld lamented yesterday that IE was "Unsafe ... still," six days after Microsoft detailed the problem in a blog post, while Wired's blog told readers, "IE fans beware." The news went round the world as well, with Canadian, U.K. and Chinese online media chiming in.

Damaging reports
Even more damaging were media reports backed by security experts who almost unanimously advised people to stop using any version of Explorer immediately. They further recommended that people not switch back to IE until the patch has been proven effective.

"Microsoft has been taking a lot of heat over Vista, so I think maybe this just seems like it's getting to be a sequence of products that are not living up to the quality standards they should," said Cymfony Chief Marketing Officer Jim Nail. "Even if people don't stop using Explorer, they're building up a sensitivity to that kind of news (from Microsoft)."

Microsoft was unable to comment at press time.

The potential for real or perceived damage is huge: Internet Explorer is used on almost 70% of computers worldwide. The browser, which is at the heart of an antitrust suit against Microsoft, has long been a target of the "anarchy types," said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

It's also been suggested by some that Microsoft's own transparency -- it was first to report the virus -- may have been partly responsible for the media maelstrom. Microsoft's Malware Protection Center blog posting Saturday offered security suggestions until the fix was done but also startling details such as the fact that reports of the infection jumped 50% in one day.

'Open approach'
"Microsoft's open approach to blogging -- pioneered by the now-departed Robert Scoble -- has definitely helped give the company a much-needed shot of personality. But that blog post would have been a damned sight less alarmist had it gone through the company's legions of press officers first. As I'm pretty sure all future posts from the Malware Protection Center will be," wrote PC Pro blogger Barry Collins.

Analysts, however, disagreed with that suggestion. Mr. Nail said he gives Microsoft credit for stepping up and admitting the problem even without an immediate fix. "Sometimes that's just the best you can do," he said. "But I still think it's better than nothing." Mr. Kay agreed: "When you have a hot one, you have to come out quickly and get a fix quickly. You've got to protect your audience."

"As long as there are web browsers, there are going to be security breaches," said Jupitermedia analyst Michael Gartenberg. "The real issue is how you deal with it. ... Microsoft did the right thing in the right way here. This is basically a fact of life."

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