Microsoft plans critical IE update next week

Users don't want a repeat of last month's patch debacle

Windows security patches

Microsoft today announced that it will issue just four security updates to customers next week, with the usual patches for Internet Explorer plus others for Windows, the .Net Framework and Lync, the company's communications server software.

Only the IE update was rated "critical," Microsoft's most serious threat ranking. The others were tagged as "important," the next step down in the company's four-level scoring system.

"Bulletin 1," as Microsoft pegged the IE update in Thursday's advance notice of next week's Patch Tuesday releases, will repair all supported versions of the browser, from the aged IE6 on Windows Server 2003 to the newest, IE11, on Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. The fix (or fixes) for IE on Windows' client editions -- Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 -- was ranked critical, while it was labeled only "moderate" on the server side.

Microsoft did not disclose the number of individual IE vulnerabilities it intends to patch on Sept. 9, but in the last three months the company's engineers have been on a fix blitz. They crafted patches for 60 browser vulnerabilities in June, then 24 in July and another 26 in August -- all of which are above-average tallies for an IE security update. A smaller number would be welcomed by hard-pressed enterprise administrators.

"It's likely we are going to see a continuation of the trend that started in June, but it's probably going to be a fairly clean month for IE," said Chris Goettl, product manager with patch management vendor Shavlik, sounding hopeful.

Most security experts recommend that customers apply any IE update first because of the browser's widespread use, particularly in the workplace, and also because it's a prime target for cybercriminals. "This will be the top patching priority for this month," Ross Barrett, senior manager of security engineering at Rapid7, said about Bulletin 1 via email.

IE was the most popular browser in August, when it accounted for 58.5% of all browsers.

The .Net Framework update, tagged as Bulletin 2, will patch one or more denial-of-service vulnerabilities in all versions of Windows, including those relegated to the data center. Meanwhile, Bulletin 3 will affect only the newer editions of Windows: Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows RT, Windows RT 8.1, Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2.

Windows 8, 8.1 and RT power approximately 15% of all Windows-based client systems.

Bulletin 4 will squash at least one bug in Lync Server 2010 and Lync Server 2013, the two newest versions of the back-office software.

Although most consumers let Windows automatically download and install the monthly updates, after last month's debacle with the MS14-045 bulletin -- Microsoft was forced to pull the update after it crippled tens of thousands of PCs -- users might want to rethink that practice and pause before patching in case problems crop up and are publicized.

Instructions for changing how Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 retrieve and install fixes via Windows Update can be found on Microsoft's website.

Microsoft will release the four security updates on Sept. 9 at approximately 1 p.m. Eastern time (10 a.m. Pacific time).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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