Microsoft sketches out final Windows XP security updates for next week
Also plans to patch Word vulnerability already being exploited by cyber criminals
Computerworld - Microsoft today said it will ship four security updates to customers next week that will include the final public fixes for flaws in Windows XP and Office 2003, both slated for retirement from security support on Tuesday.
Of the four updates, two were tagged "critical," Microsoft's most serious threat rating, and the other pair was marked "important," the next step down in the firm's four-part scoring system.
All four, however, were labeled in today's advance notification with the phrase "remote code execution," meaning that attackers could hijack an unpatched PC if they managed to exploit the vulnerabilities. Microsoft often downgrades remote code flaws to the important category when there are mitigating factors -- say, a requirement that users click through multiple warnings or deviate from a standard configuration -- that prevent easy exploitation.
One of the quartet will directly affect Windows XP -- all versions of Windows, actually, including the newest, Windows 8.1 -- while another will also impact the 13-year-old OS because it will patch all editions of Internet Explorer, including IE6, which faces retirement, too, and IE8, the most popular Microsoft browser for XP.
The small number of fixes for XP on the eve of its retirement didn't surprise Andrew Storms, director of DevOps at San Francisco-based security vendor CloudPassage.
"I think a lot of people have made much ado about nothing regarding the end of life for XP," said Storms in an interview conducted via instant messaging. "One of those being the hallucination that we would see a dump truck full of last-minute XP patches next week. It's not like Microsoft to sit on a bunch of known bugs for a long time and release them all on an arbitrary date. Take Pwn2Own for example: We almost never see a bunch of IE bugs get squashed the month before."
Also on next week's slate: A fix for the Word vulnerability that Microsoft confirmed March 24 is being exploited in the wild using malformed RTF (rich text format) documents. Microsoft has rated the Word update as critical.
All versions of Word -- Word 2003, Word 2007, Word 2013 and Word 2013 RT on Windows, and Word 2011 on OS X -- will be patched next week to quash the bug.
"Since the bug affected Office 2003 and it, like XP, goes EOL [end of life] next week, they pretty much were required to issue the patch," said Storms. "Leaving a known zero-day bug in the wild would have been bad news."
Office 2003, which debuted in October 2003, will be retired from support next Tuesday along with Windows XP.
The other critical update will patch all supported versions of IE except for IE10, which launched in 2012 with Windows 8, but was also pushed to Windows 7 users in February 2013. Although newer code is often immune from bugs in older software, the fact that the older IE6, IE7, IE8 and IE9 will be patched, and the newest browser, IE11, will be too, was unusual.
Storms didn't have any ideas on why IE10 was not affected. "I have no insight or good guesses as to what about IE10 makes it special," he said.
He recommended that Microsoft customers apply the IE update as soon as possible. "It's almost always 'IE first,'" he said. "Then, no question -- apply that Word fix pronto."
Bulletin 1, the update that will patch Word, will also affect SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Server 2013, the collaboration software many enterprises have deployed to support Office. Because SharePoint Server runs a service called "Word Automation Services," which automatically opens documents in several formats, including RTF, it could also be exploited, potentially spreading attack code throughout a company.
"This sounds like a pretty interesting possible attack vector," observed Storms. "Aren't we always told not to just automatically open everything we get?"
Microsoft will release the security updates on April 8 around 1 p.m. ET.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
- Chinese officials seize Microsoft PCs, emails, financial info in antitrust probe
- Chinese regulators target Microsoft for office visits
- Layoffs cool Microsoft employees' opinion of CEO Satya Nadella
- How Microsoft's CEO sees growth for Windows Phone and Lumia
- Microsoft wants you to forget Windows 8
- Microsoft again writes off Surface inventory, renews profitability doubts
- 'Nadella Effect' makes Ballmer $2.8B richer
- Microsoft reveals bankruptcy of devices strategy by dumping Nokia feature phones
- Microsoft may drag out layoffs for a year
- Surface survives Microsoft cuts, but tablet strategy remains muddled
Read more about Endpoint Security in Computerworld's Endpoint Security Topic Center.
- Mitigating Multiple DDoS Attack Vectors It's time to rethink and refine the enterprise security architecture, so organizations can remain agile and resilient against future threats. Download this infographic...
- EndPoint Interactive eGuide In this eGuide, Network World, Computerworld, and CIO examine two endpoint trends - BYOD and collaboration - and offer tips and advice on...
- Reducing the cost and complexity of endpoint management IBM now offers simpler, more affordable solutions for improving endpoint security, patch compliance, lifecycle management and power management within midsized organizations. Read this...
- Mission Critical: Managing Mobile Applications & Content Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become embedded in enterprise processes, thanks to the consumerization of IT and a new generation of...
- Keep Servers Up and Running and Attackers in the Dark An SSL/TLS handshake requires at least 10 times more processing power on a server than on the client. SSL renegotiation attacks can readily...
- On Demand: Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed, and it continues to escalate. IT must answer to users who demand access to their... All Endpoint Security White Papers | Webcasts