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4/25/2012
12:37 PM
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Mac Users Face Office Update Bugs, Flashback Variants

Microsoft removes an automated update for Office for Mac 2011 after users report corrupted Mac Outlook settings, and a new version of Flashback malware surfaces.

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Microsoft has temporarily stopped issuing its most recent, automatic update for Office for Mac 2011, after some users reported that the update had corrupted or deleted their Outlook for Mac data. "Our goal is provide the simplest update experience for everyone--so we have temporarily stopped pushing out the SP2 update through Microsoft AutoUpdate while we investigate the issue," the company said in a blog post.

Microsoft had begun pushing the service pack 2 (SP2) update via its Apple OS X AutoUpdate software on April 12. But Friday, the company acknowledged that "a small percentage" of users were reporting that the update had created problems with their Outlook for Mac database, as well as this error message: "Please upgrade the Office database."

Although the automatic update has been suspended indefinitely, Office for Mac 2011 users still can download and install the SP2 update. But Microsoft has cautioned against doing so, at least without first using one of the two workarounds that the company has published to address the database issue, both of which involve rebuilding the Outlook database.

[ Better coding can protect against attacks, too. See Schwartz On Security: Secure Coding Or Bust. ]

Some users on Microsoft's Office for Mac site, however, are reporting that even with the workarounds, they're still not able to use Outlook. "This update is TERRIBLE. I did the update and now my text-only emails take 1-2 minutes to send and my emails with attachments fail altogether," said a poster who listed his name as Andrew. "I've rebuilt the database following the instructions, and [get] the same result."

A post from "Steve" said that the update had led to poorly managed network connections. "It appears that this update has made worse a problem that has plagued others--namely, that Outlook maintains a constant connection to Exchange (2007) and chews up nearly all available network bandwidth. This is seen within corporate networks as well as [for] remote [users]. Basically, it renders Outlook nearly useless as one has to terminate Outlook in order to do any other work."

Other users of the SP2 update have reported lost contacts, no longer being able to use right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, broken Gmail IMAP connections, and inappropriate levels of CPU usage by Outlook.

In other bug-related Mac news, security software vendor Intego Monday said that it's seen a new version of the Flashback malware appear. Dubbed Flashback.S, the malware continues to target the Java vulnerability that Apple patched earlier this month.

If Flashback.S encounters an Apple OS X machine with the vulnerability, the Java applet can install itself automatically, no administrator-level password required. At that point, the applet installs multiple malicious files, then erases itself to help avoid detection. As with the previous version of Flashback, however, the malware won't attempt to install any malicious files--and in fact will immediately delete itself--if it detects the presence of Xcode, Little Snitch, or Mac antivirus software from one of a number of vendors.

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