Microsoft may face tough patch job with Windows shortcut bug

Another researcher disputes that, says fix could come within two weeks

Microsoft may have a tough time fixing the Windows shortcut vulnerability, a security researcher said today.

A noted vulnerability expert, however, disagreed, and said Microsoft could deliver a patch within two weeks.

"The way Windows' shortcuts are designed is flawed, and I think they will have a very hard time patching this," said Roel Schouwenberg, an antivirus researcher with Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab.

Schouwenberg based his prediction that a patch may prove elusive on the fact that Microsoft has never faced a security issue with shortcuts, and thus has no security processes in place that it can quickly tweak.

For its part, Microsoft considers the flaw a security vulnerability, and has promised a patch. As of Tuesday, however, it had not set a timeline for a fix.

Microsoft has acknowledged that attackers can use a malicious shortcut file, identified by the ".lnk" extension, to automatically execute their malware by getting users to view the contents of a folder containing a malformed shortcut. The risk is even greater if hackers use infected USB flash drives to spread their attack code, since the latter automatically executes on most Windows PCs as soon as drive is plugged into the machine.

All versions of Windows are vulnerable to attack, including the just-released beta of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1), as well as the recently retired Windows XP SP2 and Windows 2000.

Attackers have exploited the shortcut bug to gain control of important computers at a customer of Siemens, the German electronics giant. Siemens last week alerted users of its Simatic WinCC management software of attacks targeting large-scale industrial control systems in major manufacturing and utility companies.

Time is also working against Microsoft .

"This may take them awhile to patch," said Schouwenberg. "But the wider-scale use of this is imminent."

Schouwenberg's last comment echoed those of other security experts Monday, when several organizations bumped up their Internet threat indicators in anticipation of impending attacks .

Another problem facing Microsoft is that the code is obviously old, making a quick patch that much more unlikely. The vulnerability exists in Windows as far back as the Windows 2000 edition, which Schouwenberg has tested and successfully exploited.

Schouwenberg compared the age of the code to that which Microsoft was forced to patch in the WMF (Windows Metafile) image format and Windows' animated cursor (.ani) file formats, in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

In both those cases, Microsoft issued emergency patches -- dubbed "out-of-band" or "out-of-cycle" -- outside its usual monthly schedule.

"I'm quite amazed that [the shortcut] bug hasn't been found before by researchers or by Microsoft," said Schouwenberg. "I would have figured that Microsoft would have caught this. But the fact that it's tied so closely with the OS may have been a problem."

Other researchers disputed Schouwenberg's assertion that a patch would occupy Microsoft for a long time.

"My guess is they will address this out-of-band and within two weeks, based on the exploits in the wild and the press coverage of the Siemens' software hack," said HD Moore, the chief security officer of Rapid7 and the creator of the well-known Metasploit hacking toolkit, in an e-mail reply to questions Tuesday.

An exploit of the shortcut flaw was added to Metasploit Monday, and Moore has been tweaking it since. Today, he said he was able to modify the exploit to create a true drive-by attack, where Windows PCs would be immediately compromised if their users were duped into browsing to a malicious Web site.

"It's always possible that Microsoft will find some very clever idea that will let them patch this quickly," said Schouwenberg.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags MicrosoftsecurityWindowssoftwareMalware and Vulnerabilitiesoperating systemskaspersky lab

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?