Microsoft, Apple, Mozilla patches put heavy load on IT

Windows hit with eight patches

Windows took it on the chin Tuesday as Microsoft released nine patches, five labeled critical, as part of its Patch Tuesday monthly release cycle.

Of the nine patches, only one does not affect Windows. The lone non-Windows patch fixes holes in Office, Visual Studio, ISA Server and BizTalk Server. The nine bulletins in total address 19 vulnerabilities, of which 15 are critical.

Microsoft's patches are the latest among a slew of fixes piled on IT departments recently. Last week saw Apple patch 18 vulnerabilities and issue a software upgrade for the iPhone to close an Short Message Service vulnerability. A few days before the Apple avalanche, Mozilla patched three vulnerabilities in its Firefox browser. The previous week, IT departments dealt with an out-of-band patch from Microsoft for Internet Explorer.

"The heavy patch load we are seeing from the major vendors is really kicking up the workload [for IT], says Paul Henry, security analyst for Lumension. "I'm still personally expecting to see something out of Oracle given the release of the hacking tool at Black Hat that was targeting Oracle."

Henry says the critical Microsoft patches would cause a heavy load on IT. "All five will require restarts and all will cause huge impact."

Jonathan Bitle, technical director for Qualys, says Tuesday's Windows-focused theme will likely continue to play out.

"I think even with the secure development cycle Microsoft implemented a few years ago, we will continue to see this, even with Windows 7," he says. "Today, even Windows Server 2008 was affected. So you have to anticipate that even though there is not a lot of code share in Windows 7, we will continue to see vulnerabilities. This is the most prevalent software in the world."

Bitle says that the other thing IT should be thinking about is that there are roughly 10 zero-day exploits in the wild right now that have not been patched, with as many as seven of them being critical.

"I cannot divulge any of them because they are not public knowledge yet, but they affect everything from Windows to Office to IE," Bitle says.

Microsoft closed one zero-day exploit Tuesday with MS09-043, the one patch that did not affect Windows but rather Office Web Components in Office, Visual Studio, ISA Server and BizTalk Server

In addition to 043, Bitle checked off patches MS09-037 and MS09-038 as the ones IT managers might want to focus on first.

The 037 patch resolves a number of privately reported vulnerabilities in the Active Template Library (ATL) in Windows. A user would need to load a specially crafted component or control hosted on a malicious Web site. In 038, the patch addresses two privately reported vulnerabilities in Windows Media file processing. The vulnerability is reduced if the user is not logged in with administrative user rights.

David Dewey, of IBM Internet security systems and one of those credited with discovering the ATL flaw, says users should considered very closely the ATL flaw.

"The issue is that developers have been including this flawed code in ActiveX controls for over 10 years. This results in an innumerable amount of vulnerable controls that were developed by third-parties and are currently being used in the public. Microsoft has done a great job of providing all the details a developer would need to correct potentially vulnerable controls, but the onus is now on the developer to make the appropriate changes."

Eric Schultze, CTO of Shavlik Technologies, says MS09-039 also is a critical issue for network administrators managing WINS servers. "This is an unauthenticated server-side attack -- the bad guy simply points and shoots some packets at the WINS server and they can execute code of their choice on that server. This attack is most likely to come from inside your network as the necessary ports to execute the attack are usually blocked at the Internet firewall. Patch this right away on your WINS servers."

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