Microsoft plugs nine holes in Windows, DNS, SQL

It's among the vendors patching a multiplatform DNS vulnerability

Microsoft Corp. today patched nine vulnerabilities in Windows, Exchange, SQL Server and the company's Domain Name System (DNS) server and client software.

All nine flaws were rated "important" by Microsoft, the second-highest threat rating in the company's four-step scoring system.

One of the Microsoft fixes for Windows DNS was part of a group of patches issued today by software vendors to plug a multiplatform hole. The researcher who uncovered the vulnerability called the group patch effort the "largest synchronized security update in the history of the Internet."

Microsoft patched its iterations of DNS in MS08-037, the security bulletin that called out two DNS bugs in every supported version of Windows except Vista.

"We've had four updates to Microsoft's DNS since 2007 -- and one led to a bot, Rinbot, in April 2007," noted Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc."

Storms was referring to the episode last year when researchers spotted then-new variants of Rinbot exploiting a zero-day flaw in Windows DNS Server Service. The most recent patch for Windows DNS was released as MS08-020 in April, part of that month's eight-update, 10-fix batch of updates.

The fix for the DNS cache poisoning vulnerability -- which was reported to Microsoft by Dan Kaminsky, a noted researcher and director of penetration testing at Seattle-based IOActive Inc. -- is part of a larger, coordinated rollout today. The Internet Software Consortium (ISC) has also updated its popular open-source BIND DNS software, which vendors like Red Hat Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. will be pushing to their users today.

"This is pretty bad, pretty bad," said Kaminsky. "I wish I could go into full detail, but...."

Kaminsky, who held a news conference today with Jerry Dixon, former director of the national Cyber Security Division at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to discuss the DNS cache poisoning bug, said he would withhold specifics of the vulnerability for about a month. He plans to present his findings at the Black Hat security conference, which runs Aug. 2-7 in Las Vegas.

"But look at how many people have worked this entire year to make this happen," Kaminsky hinted. "This is not your everyday vulnerability. There are vulnerabilities, and then there are vulnerabilities. But that doesn't mean you panic."

He predicted that exploits will be crafted for the DNS flaw. "I don't think this will survive reverse engineering."

Storms of nCircle put it into perspective. "A reliable DNS cache exploit means that the probability of redirecting an unsuspecting user to a malicious Web site has just increased dramatically," he said, urging users -- enterprise administrators in particular -- to install the patch pronto. "Every network administrator in the world needs to drop that iPhone, get off their BlackBerry and patch their DNS now."

Eric Schultze, chief technology officer at Shavlik Technologies LLC, a Roseville, Minn.-based vendor of security products, picked a different Microsoft update to tout today. He focused on MS08-038, a bulletin that outlined a remote code vulnerability in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 that involves the saved search feature and its associated file format in those operating systems.

"I say that one only because it's entirely unclear if browsing to a malicious site can [trigger the vulnerability] or if the user has to save and then open a [malicious] saved search file," Schultze said. "Given that it's so unclear, I'd patch that one first."

Microsoft also issued MS08-039 and MS08-040 today. The former is a two-patch update to Exchange 2003 and 2007; the latter is a four-patch update for Microsoft's SQL Server software, including the database components bundled with Windows.

"Both are important to patch as soon as possible," said Storms, "not so much because of the attack methods or the risk they may present to the organization, but because of the high importance of e-mail and databases in the enterprise, and the high administrative duty in patching and testing."

Because Exchange and SQL Server are critical components in corporations relying on Microsoft's software, IT staff must take caution in making any changes, said Storms. "There's a lot of overhead risk," he said. "Anytime you introduce a change, there's a risk of it breaking something else. So these updates heighten the overhead risk and administrative cost, because you're talking about e-mail and databases."

Another factor that should be considered, Storms continued, is the widespread use of SQL injection attacks by hackers to compromise sites and turn them into malware-spreading domains. The four fixes in MS08-040 don't address flaws that attackers have used to hack sites -- Microsoft has been adamant that SQL injection attacks succeed because of poorly-coded ASP code, not vulnerabilities in SQL Server itself -- but they could, Storms argued, be dissected by hackers and used in conjunction with injection attacks.

July's security updates can be downloaded and installed via the Microsoft Update and Windows Update services, as well as through Windows Server Update Services.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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