Responding to what it described as customer feedback, Microsoft this week extended support for its widely used Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET).
Instead of the originally planned end-of-life date of January 27, 2017, Microsoft will now continue to support the security toolkit through July 31, 2018.
After that date, there are no plans to offer security patches or other support for EMET, Microsoft principal program lead manager Jeffrey Sutherland announced in a blog post on the company’s TechNet this week.
"For improved security, our recommendation is for customers to migrate to Windows 10," Sutherland said.
The news is likely to come both as a surprise and a bit of relief for organizations using EMET. In announcing the extension, Microsoft for the first time also disclosed plans about finally pulling the plug on a technology that has served as an important bulwark against malicious exploits for many Windows organizations for the past. But its new deadline of July 2018 at least gives organizations 18 months to prepare for it.
Microsoft introduced EMET in 2009 as a measure to help enterprises mitigate and manage security vulnerabilities in Windows. Among other things, the company intended for the free toolkit to be used by administrators to activate settings and security features that were not always enabled by default in Windows and for locking down application access to OS features that they didn’t need.
At the time, Microsoft had described EMET as a necessary toolkit to help secure their Windows environment in the three- to four years it used to take the company to release new and updated Windows versions. Over the years, administrators have used the technology to thwart everything from ordinary exploits to advanced zero-day threats.
"It allowed us to interrupt and disrupt many of the common exploit kits employed by attackers at the time without waiting for the next Windows release," Sutherland said this week. The toolkit also offered the company a place to assess the functionality of new security features, he said.
Recently, though, EMET’s usefulness has diminished somewhat, as many of the security controls in the tool were integrated into successive Windows versions - most notably, Windows 10.
The stopgap nature of EMET’s features means that many of them are no longer robust enough to handle the challenges posed by current security exploits, Sutherland said. As a result, multiple, sometimes trivial, exploits are available in the wild currently for bypassing EMET, he noted.
Earlier this year, several security researchers warned of how some exploits from the Angler Exploit kit were completely getting around EMET. "This is something we are seeing for the first time in the wild, and we only observed it affecting systems running Windows 7," FireEye warned at that time.
The exploit allowed attackers to install TeslaCrypt ransomware on Windows 7 systems, prompting concern about the effectiveness of EMET in stopping such threats.
Sutherland noted other problems with EMET as well. Because EMET hooks into low-level areas of Windows in a manner not originally intended by developers, it has caused performance and reliability problems for systems running it. "And this presents an ongoing problem for customers since every OS or application update can trigger performance and reliability issues," due to compatibility issues, he said.