The French government has followed Germany in warning internet users not to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and to find an alternative browser in order to protect security.

The advice comes after Microsoft admitted last week that a security hole with the browser had led to attacks against Google and other hackers in China.

Google said that an attack on its corporate network had targeted the e-mail accounts of human rights activists and added that it may withdraw from China, as it believed the attacks had originated there.

Following the news, Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security issued a warning against all versions of Internet Explorer and recommended that users switch to an alternative such as Firefox or Google’s Chrome.

The French Expertise Center for Governmental Treatment Response and Computer Attacks (CERTA) followed suit issuing a similar warning: “Pending a patch from the publisher, Certa recommends using an alternative browser,” the agency said.

The threat is believed to be higher to those working in the public sector, who are more likely to use the older versions of the browser.

According to Microsoft, Internet Explorer is still the most secure browser on the market.

Cliff Evans, Microsoft’s head of security and privacy, told the BBC that the malicious code had only targeted Internet Explorer 6 and that “the risk is minimal.”

For a web user to be affected, he said, they would have to be using IE6 and visit a compromised website, of which there are apparently “very few.”

However, if this did occur, a PC could become infected and a hacker could take control of the computer and potentially steal sensitive information.

Microsoft has advised users to set the browser’s security zone to “high” and upgrade their browsers to the latest versions.

Microsoft traditionally releases a security update once a month, with the next scheduled update due on 9 February, although they working on a more immediate update.

The UK government had said that it would not issue a similar warning. However, it said the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure was “monitoring the situation” and would “publish further advice if the risks change.”

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BBC News