Four of those security bulletins involve "critical" vulnerabilities, which Microsoft defines as bugs that can be used by attackers to remotely execute code--potentially giving them direct access to Windows systems and the data they store--without any user action.
The critical vulnerabilities slated to be fixed involve Internet Explorer (IE7 and IE8), the .NET framework, and Silverlight. In addition, Microsoft said it will patch critical vulnerabilities in multiple versions of Windows: Windows XP SP3 and XP Professional x64 Edition SP2; Windows Vista and Vista x64 Edition SP2; as well as all currently supported versions of Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008 R2.
Interestingly, while IE7 and IE8 are faced with a critical vulnerability, the same bug in IE6 isn't as much of a threat, because "the known attack vectors for the vulnerability...are blocked in a default configuration," according to Microsoft's security bulletin. "However, as a defense-in-depth measure, Microsoft recommends that customers of this software apply this security update."
[ Microsoft's new operating system is coming this year. What's your plan? See Windows 8: What IT Needs To Consider. ]
The rest of the Microsoft bulletins, meanwhile, rate as "important," meaning that if exploited, the related vulnerabilities could result in the comprise of data or computing resources. "In the 'important' category, there are three remote code execution vulnerabilities, one of them in Office. Most likely we are looking at file-based attacks and at least the Office vulnerability should be included in your first tier of patching," said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, in a blog post.
But Kandek recommended that IT managers make the IE patches their top priority. "After all, we saw last month how quickly attackers are incorporating browser based attacks into their toolkits." Notably, an exploit for a critical Windows Media Player vulnerability surfaced just 15 days after it was first detailed by Microsoft in January as part of its monthly Patch Tuesday.
In other patching news, Google Wednesday updated its Chrome browser to version 17.0.963.46, which includes patches for 20 bugs, one of them "critical." Interestingly, six of the bugs were discovered by the same researcher, Aki Helin of the Oulu University secure programming group, who received $3,133.70--the top amount possible--from Google as part of its bug-bounty program.
The latest version of Chrome, said Google, also adds better downloading protection. Notably, Chrome already checked potential downloads against a list of known-bad files. Now, "Chrome also does checks on executable files (like '.exe' and '.msi' files)," said Noe Lutz, a self-described software engineer and malware vigilante, in a blog post. "If the executable doesn't match a whitelist, Chrome checks with Google for more information, such as whether the website you're accessing hosts a high number of malicious downloads." This information is used by Google as part of Chrome's Safe Browsing feature, so that it can flash a warning next to a file download, should it appear to be malicious.
How can companies find and fix vulnerabilities before they lead to a breach? Better yet, how can software developers identify flaws in their applications before the new software is ever deployed? In this report, Eliminating Vulnerabilities In Enterprise Software, Dark Reading offers a look at some tips and tricks for software development and vulnerability assessment. (Free registration required.)