Microsoft releases fixes for just four flaws

Bugs in IM software and 'Clippy'-like animated avatars top monthly list

Microsoft has issued four security bulletins that patched just four vulnerabilities in Windows, Visual Studio and the MSN and Windows Live Messenger software, setting a 2007 record for the fewest flaws fixed in a monthly scheduled update.

Only one of the four flaws was pegged 'critical', Microsoft's highest threat warning, while the other three were all labelled 'important', a notch lower.

Two security analysts pointed at MS07-054, the update for Microsoft's instant messaging clients -- MSN Messenger and the newest Windows Live Messenger -- as the one to deploy first. "It's the most interesting," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc. "It's only rated 'important', but it patches a known vulnerability that's been publicly known for a week."

Messenger's Web cam vulnerability was first reported late last month on a Chinese-language security mailing list, and exploit code for the flaw has made its way onto the Internet. Users duped into accepting a malicious Web cam or video chat invitation risked losing control of their PC to the attacker, who could hijack the system by injecting and running his or her own code.

"This is the most important one," agreed Amol Sarwate, manager of Qualys' vulnerability lab. "It falls into this new trend of new media attacks using social engineering. By 'new media', I mean exploits inside images, inside MP3 files and, in this case, inside [a] Web cam session."

Rather than rely on users to open infected attachments -- a practice many users now know is dangerous -- new media attackers hope that users' guards are down when they receive chat invitations via IM.

But one researcher fingered a different bulletin -- MS07-051 -- as the one to deploy. "The most critical is the Microsoft Agent vulnerability," said Tom Cross, of IBM Internet Security Systems's X-Force, noting that the vulnerability could be exploited by well-known methods.

To exploit the vulnerability, an attacker would need to entice users to a malicious Web site. "It uses a pretty common attack vector," he said, "and fits the profile of a lot of bugs."

Microsoft Agent, said Cross, has been patched previously. An April update, in fact, fixed a near-identical flaw. Agent, the Windows component that makes possible the interactive animated help characters -- the infamous "Clippy" once used in Microsoft Office is probably the best-known example -- was patched in April on most versions of Windows. This month, the fix was in for Windows 2000 SP4 only.

Cross also put the Agent patch at the top because Microsoft had credited three researchers for reporting the bug. "So many people discovered this vulnerability more or less simultaneously that, if it remains unpatched, people on the other side might discover it too," Cross said.

The other two updates quashed bugs in Visual Studio and in the Windows Services for Unix (SFU), a collection of components that make it possible for Windows and Unix systems to talk to each other. Both updates were rated important by Microsoft, but the analysts said that neither flaw posed a major threat.

Cross said that the Visual Studio bug first came to light in January and hadn't been exploited since.

Any threat to SFU was mitigated by the niche-like nature of the service. "Very few people use this," said nCircle's Storms. "Most use the Cygwin tools instead."

Microsoft originally planned five updates, but yanked one slated for SharePoint Services last Friday. Microsoft wouldn't say why it pulled the patch.

But talking up a fix and then not following through wasn't ideal, said analysts. "I wish they hadn't said anything about SharePoint," said Cross.

Storms agreed. "There must be a reason why they pulled it, and it had to be a pretty good reason," he said. "But now we all know that there's a vulnerability in SharePoint."

As usual, Microsoft's monthly updates are available via the Microsoft Update and Windows Update services, as well as through Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?