Microsoft Patches Active Exploits

Latest fixes, network access woes get patching day off to a rough start

And then there were ten on 10/10: Microsoft unleashed 10 new patches today for 26 different vulnerabilities. But the most striking aspect of today's release wasn't the sheer number of patches, but that over half of the patches were for "live" vulnerabilities.

"Almost all of these include fixes for bugs that were discovered in the wild either being exploited or could be because there's proof-of-concept code published," says Tom Cross, research engineer for Internet Security Systems' X-Force team.

The Windows Shell (MS06-57), PowerPoint (MS06-58), and Word (MS06-60) bulletins all patch existing zero-day attacks already in the wild, Cross says, and proof-of-concept code was already out for several other patches.

Symantec echoed that by pointing out the Excel zero-day exploit using Trojan.Hongmosa and the Word zero-day exploit using Trojan.MDropper.Q, both of which Symantec says it spotted previously.

Microsoft rated 15 of the 26 as critical bugs.

And today's Patch Tuesday came with some strange events of its own. As of presstime, the patches weren't available online from Microsoft and some users had to manually download their patches from the software giant's Download Center. Microsoft attributed the problem to networking problems with Microsoft Update and promised to have the problem fixed by the end of the day today.

Christopher Budd, security program manager at Microsoft's Security Response Center, said in an interview that the problem had to do with propagation on Microsoft's internal network. "The release process is like launching a space shuttle -- it's a multi-stage process," he said. "Sometimes things crop up that delay one area but don't affect others. This issue is affecting Microsoft Update, but all the [patches] are all on the Download Center."

Meanwhile, there was an eleventh Windows patch that was supposed to arrive today with the others, but Budd says it's now on hold until the next release cycle due to problems during testing. "As part of our testing process, we found an issue that we felt merited taking it out of the pipeline and putting it through more testing."

With Office getting four patch bulletins as well as the recent exploit activity surrounding it, the trend toward application vulnerabilities looks alive and well. "Office is about content," says Allwyn Sequeira, vice president of engineering and operations for Blue Lane, who says this will mean a "long road" for Microsoft to stay up with future application vulnerabilities.

But Microsoft's Budd says the Office vulnerabilities are more cyclical than trendy. "There's more interest in Office than this time last year," he says. "But beyond that, there are ebbs and flows" in the vulnerability trends.

Given the constant wave of new bugs getting discovered in Microsoft software, some security experts say Patch Tuesday's days may be numbered. "Given how fast things seem to be happening, this practice probably won't hold," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group. Enderle says he expects Microsoft to scrap the monthly releases at some point, implying the vendor would go to a greater frequency.

But Budd says Microsoft customers haven't indicated to the company that the monthly cycle has become outdated. "We are always listening to our customers and we've not reached the point where they are saying they don't want a monthly release cycle."

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • IBM Internet Security Systems
  • Blue Lane Technologies Inc.