Oops! Mozilla forgets Firefox 2 patch, must re-issue update

It's 'embarrassing,' but users are not at risk, says browser maker.

A "clerical error" by Mozilla Corp. omitted one of the security patches that was supposed to be included in the Windows version of yesterday's Firefox 2.0.0.19 release, a company executive said today.

"We don't believe users are at risk right now," said Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox. Beltzner declined to pinpoint the missing patch -- one of 10 in the update -- to make it more difficult for attackers to take advantage of the snafu. "I can tell you that it's not one of the severe vulnerabilities and there are no known exploits for it," he said.

Mozilla will release Firefox 2.0.0.20, which will include the omitted patch, as early as Friday and no later than Monday.

Tuesday's update was supposed to be the last for Firefox 2.0, which is slated for retirement. Instead, Mozilla plans to call it quits with Firefox 2.0.0.20.

Only the Windows version was affected by the mistake; the Mac and Linux editions contain all 10 fixes.

"Due to a clerical error, and this is embarrassing, we forgot to include one of the patches," said Beltzner. "That means Firefox 2.0.0.19 is not identical across platforms."

Firefox 2.0.0.19 was supposed to include five patches labeled "critical," one "high," two "moderate" and two "low" in Mozilla's four-step scoring system. Of the four in the two less-severe categories, the most serious could be used by attackers to steal information from a user while browsing.

As per its policy, Mozilla was to officially retire the older browser Tuesday, but it must now delay that until Version 2.0.0.20 is available. Mozilla has been aggressively urging users to upgrade to Firefox 3.0, which was launched last June, and since then has twice offered Firefox 2.0 users an update, most recently two weeks ago. Mozilla estimated today that approximately 2 million users have accepted the second upgrade.

The company plans to make one final offer early next month.

When Mozilla wraps up its testing, it will post Firefox 2.0.0.20 on its Web site for download. Users will also be able to retrieve it via Firefox's built-in updater, or they can wait for the automatic update notification to appear.

Mozilla isn't the only software maker that has had to reissue an update. Last June, for example, Microsoft Corp. rereleased a patch for Windows XP's implementation of Bluetooth because the fix didn't really fix anything. And in September, Apple Inc. was forced to repeat a release of iTunes 8.0 after a buggy driver crashed Windows Vista PCs with the dreaded "blue screen of death."

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Gregg Keizer

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