Microsoft sticks to plan, denies emergency patch for XP SP2

Some had hoped it would bend the rules to fix critical flaw

Although some had hoped that Microsoft would violate its own patching policy, the company yesterday stuck to its guns and declined to provide a fix for a critical bug to users running Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2).

On Monday, Microsoft shipped an emergency patch for the Windows shortcut bug that attackers have been exploiting for several weeks. The vulnerability affects all versions from Windows 2000 on, including XP, Vista and Windows 7.

But, per Microsoft's practice, the oldest operating systems and service packs were denied the update.

"To be crystal clear, there is no security update for XP SP2," said Microsoft spokesman Christopher Budd in a Webcast on the out-of-band patch that he hosted Monday afternoon.

Microsoft retired XP SP2, as well as the even older Windows 2000, from all support on July 13, when both editions exited the company's final five-year "extended support" phase. Products dropped from extended support no longer receive security patches or other non-security fixes from Microsoft via its Automatic Update service and business patch mechanisms like Windows Server Update Service (WSUS).

Nonetheless, a few security researchers had held out a little hope that Microsoft would issue a fix for the Windows shortcut vulnerability to machines running XP SP2.

"The only question I had was whether Microsoft would try and release a patch for unsupported operating systems," Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security, said in an interview Monday. "There's a ton of people still running SP2, and it just went end-of-life."

Other researchers, including Jason Miller, data and security team manager for patch management vendor Shavlik Technologies, echoed Storms yesterday, saying that he had looked carefully for any sign that Microsoft was pushing a fix to Windows XP SP2 or Windows 2000. There wasn't.

Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, confirmed that. "The recently discontinued Windows 2000 and Windows XP SP2 are not covered by the patch," said Kandek.

Microsoft declined to directly answer questions yesterday about whether XP SP2 users would be served the out-of-band update. "Microsoft does not comment on the possible vulnerability of out-of-support versions of products," said Budd in an e-mail reply to those questions Monday.

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