Microsoft Corp. is investigating claims that its popular Internet Explorer software has a loophole that lets attackers pose as legitimate web site operators, potentially giving them access to school computer users' names, passwords, and credit card numbers.

Although Microsoft said it's too soon to judge the severity of the problem—or even whether the flaw exists—some programmers and ed-tech experts said it could threaten the security of everything from online banking to web-based commerce.

The issue becomes increasingly critical for schools as information technology (IT) directors and business officials implement policies that allow


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