Microsoft fixes 20 flaws, patches entire security lineup

A security researcher called one of the vulnerabilities 'embarrassing' to the company

Microsoft Corp. today unveiled a dozen security updates that patch 20 vulnerabilities. One of the flaws was found in every security product of the company's consumer and enterprise lines, including software either bundled with or able to run on the new Windows Vista operating system.

More than half of the 20 patches -- 11 -- were labeled "critical," the highest rating in Microsoft's four-step threat-scoring system.

Among the updates are several that tackle long-standing problems in numerous editions of Microsoft Office, including six patches for Word and one each for PowerPoint and Excel.

But the update deemed by analysts to be most important is MS07-010, which patches a critical bug in the malware scanning engine used by Windows OneCare, Windows Defender and the Forefront Security and Antigen products. The flaw could be leveraged by a hacker to hijack a supposedly protected PC, because the scanning engine improperly parses PDF files, Microsoft said. Attackers could feed malformed PDFs to PCs via e-mail, for instance, and grab control of the machines without any interaction from users.

According to Microsoft, the scanning engine bug hasn't been used yet by attackers.

No matter, said Amol Sarwate, who manages Qualys Inc.'s vulnerability lab. "MS07-010 is the most critical of the bulletins," he said. "The flaw in the core protection engine of several Microsoft [security] products can be used to execute attack code on a machine without any user interaction. And this [is the software] which is supposed to protect your desktops and servers from attack."

Others concurred. Symantec Corp.'s alert to customers of its DeepSight threat network, for instance, rated MS07-010 as a 10 out of a possible 10 on its urgency scale. And Minoo Hamilton, senior security researcher at patch management vendor nCircle Network Security Inc., said the patch was not only a critical fix, but an embarrassment to Microsoft.

"There have been so many vulnerabilities having to do with parsing files," said Hamilton, "that this is exactly the kind of thing that you would have expected Microsoft to catch. They'll have to put more effort into securing their security software, because this is embarrassing."

Lamar Bailey, the senior X-Force operations officer at IBM Internet Security Systems (ISS), disagreed with Sarwate's, Hamilton's and Symantec's prognoses. "These products automatically update, so the exposure will be short," said Bailey. "I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't already updated themselves."

Rather than the malware bug, Bailey tagged MS07-016, the bulletin that patched three flaws in Internet Explorer, as the one ISS feels should be deployed right away. The reason: a vulnerability in how IE processes requests from File Transfer Protocol servers.

"Lots of shareware sites actually use links to an FTP server," said Bailey. "Users don't always know that they're even connecting to an FTP server." Attackers could entice users to malicious Web sites hosting innocent-looking files for downloading while actually exploiting the IE bug to hijack the PC.

Of the three IE bugs in MS07-016, two affect the newest version of the browser, IE 7, on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, although the threat rating has been downgraded to "important." IE 7 on Vista is not at risk, said Microsoft.

Another bulletin, MS07-014, has been long anticipated. The update for Microsoft Word 2000, Word 2002, Word 2003 and Word 2004 for Mac patches six bugs, four of which have already been used by hackers. "We recommend that users also patch this immediately, since exploits are in the wild," said Qualys product manager Jonathan Bitle.

Three of the four already-used vulnerabilities date back to December, and their patches were reportedly scheduled for release last month before being pulled at the last minute because of quality issues.

Other bulletins in the massive patch day -- today's tied a record with those for two months in 2006 when Microsoft also released a dozen updates -- fixed flaws in Windows, Office, Visual Studio, various ActiveX controls, the RTF file format, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Users can obtain the February patches via Windows' Automatic Update, from the Microsoft Update service or through enterprise tools such as Windows Server Update Services and Software Update Services.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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