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Microsoft patches Internet Explorer flaw with fix for unsupported Windows XP

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Microsoft launched a fix today for its recent highly-publicized security vulnerability on Internet Explorer, including on Windows XP systems despite its end-of-support designation.

The company temporarily reversed course from its plan to end support on the 13-year old operating system, which stopped receiving security and software updates last month despite an estimated one-third of all computers still running Windows XP. The fix also patches the flaw on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 series operating systems.

The security firm FireEye discovered over the weekend that the exploit allowed hackers to infiltrate the computers of Internet Explorer users that visited seemingly harmless websites infected with compromised Adobe Flash files. Security experts suggested a temporary workaround to the bug by disabling Adobe Flash in Internet Explorer, but the measure also disables any online video service or interactive software and websites that run on Flash.

The exploit, which prompted Homeland Security to warn Americans not to use Internet Explorer versions 9, 10 and 11 until Microsoft released a fix, gained significant attention since its weekend discovery despite a lack of widespread exploitation because it affects the world's most popular internet browser. Microsoft, which typically supports its operating system for about 11 years after initial release, created a firestorm last month when it followed through with plans to end support for Windows XP despite its widespread usage around the world. The bug's discovery coincides with the recent scramble by homes and businesses to upgrade older Windows XP systems, with many users potentially at risk if Microsoft didn't issue a fix. The operating system is also still used in many ATMs, although most major banks run modified versions that continue to receive updates or are migrating to newer versions like Windows 7.

Microsoft released the fix through Windows Update, which will automatically download and install for Windows users that have automatic updates enabled.