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Risk

3/26/2008
12:48 PM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Commentary
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"New" Word Vulnerability: What Did Microsoft Know And When Did They Know It?

It turns out that Microsoft engineers knew about a vulnerability that could expose Word users to attacks, and knew about it for awhile before letting the rest of us in on the problem. A long while.

It turns out that Microsoft engineers knew about a vulnerability that could expose Word users to attacks, and knew about it for awhile before letting the rest of us in on the problem. A long while.The Jet Database Engine vulnerability exploitable via Word is one of those vulnerabilities that requires a targeted -- rather than broad -- attack.

Which doesn't mean it isn't a vulnerability, however "limited" (Microsoft's description) the risk it poses.

Nor was the risk so "limited" that Microsoft didn't feel obliged to let the world in on the problem after reports of some attacks began to circulate.

The vulnerability was announced by Microsoft last Friday -- two or three years after Microsoft became aware of it.

Take a look at this Microsoft security blog about the vulnerability -- and let me know if it annoys you that the company acknowledges awareness of this type of exploit and the vulnerability that invites it, yet did nothing about it. For three years.

My favorite part of the blog? The explanation that no alert -- much less fix -- for the problem was announced because Microsoft felt that an "attempt to attack customers using these issues was heavily mitigated" by file-blockers that prevented Outlook from opening the MDB files that could be exploited.

Mitigated!

So why let us know now?

To quote the blog again: "Everything changed with the discovery of this new attack vector..."

The new vector uses Word to open MDB files, unmitigating the mitigation, at least for users, as Microsoft puts it, of

Microsoft Word 2000 Service Pack 3, Microsoft Word 2002 Service Pack 3, Microsoft Word 2003 Service Pack 2, Microsoft Word 2003 Service Pack 3, Microsoft Word 2007, and Microsoft Word 2007 Service Pack 1 on Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

If you're running one of those you, to quote Microsoft again, "are vulnerable to these attacks."

Moving a step farther along the path from mitigated to unmitigated, there's this for all of you still running any of the vulnerable programs:

"Were investigating what it would take to release those fixes as part of the security update as a defense-in-depth change." I could tell Microsoft what it would take, and so could you, but that would require the use of unmitigated language that's not included in the bMighty stylesheet.

Fill in the blanks for me yourself -- and don't be mitigated about it.

Look: there are going to be big vulnerabilities and small vulnerabilities, holes that affect whatever the current largest market-share programs are, and holes hidden deep in older programs. We all know which ones get fanfare -- and which ones get fixed first.

But for the users running those older programs and thus exposed to the discovery of "new attack vectors" -- which are going to be discovered, no doubt of that -- the news that these holes have been waiting to be discovered for years, and that Microsoft knew it, is, well, it's just unmitigated ... [fill in this blank, too, according to your tastes and preferences in invective.]

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