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Microsoft Corp on Thursday released a patch to protect users of its Internet Explorer browser from attacks similar to those directed at Google Inc.'s operations in China last week.

The world's largest software company, which acknowledged that a weakness in its browser was exploited by hackers targeting Google and at least 20 other companies in China, said its new patch was "critical" and should be applied as soon as possible.

The patch resolves eight vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer, the most serious of which could allow hackers to gain control of a computer remotely via Web sites visited while using the browser, Microsoft said.

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Most Internet Explorer customers, who have automatic updating enabled on their system, will not need to take any action, Microsoft said. For manual updating, it directed users to its website (http://www.update.microsoft.com/windowsupdate/v6/thanks.aspx?ln=en&&thankspage=5).

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