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 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.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags securityMicrosoftoperating systemssoftwareWindowskaspersky labMalware and Vulnerabilities

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

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?