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MS Love Bug cure worse than the disease?

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Microsoft's remedy to the ILOVEYOU virus may cause more problems than the original virus.

As we reported Tuesday, Microsoft posted three patches as an answer to the Outlook email virus and its copycat cousins.

"Microsoft has reported several cases of functionality failure surrounding the Outlook updates. The most significant of these involves the updates' installation procedures," reports Windows Web site EntEnt.

Also affected are the updates themselves, users of Palm and Windows CE synchronisation software, recipients of PowerPoint presentations, users who route documents from Word, and a long list of third party software. According to Microsoft itself, there is no uninstall procedure and if the patch installation goes awry - as Microsoft has admitted has happened 'in some cases' the recommendation is to uninstall and then reinstall the Microsoft Office suite from scratch.

Only users of Outlook 97, Outlook 98, Outlook 2000 or Exchange Server are affected. The full list of glitches can be found here.s

But if the sound of pigeons coming home to roost could be heard when ILOVEYOU struck, then there should be enough for a string of The Birds sequels now.

Compared to the clunky but effective Java sandbox, Microsoft has no clean way of discriminating between legitimate file and disk accesses and what could be the destructive payload of a worm or virus. As an example of how indiscrimating this is, Microsoft warns: "When accessing the Address Book from within Word or Microsoft Excel, the prompt indicating a program is trying to access your Address Book is displayed."

Well obviously. But it shouldn't, should it?

After ILOVEYOU the lion's share of attention was focussed on the ease of scripting the virus, but this dealt with the propagation, not the payload. And, lest we forget, ILOVEYOU corrupted data files.

With its patches this week, Microsoft typically went for the symptoms, rather than try and tackle the root cause of the problem. And that's going to be a lot harder, as so many of Microsoft's own applications depend on the broken model. For example Microsoft warns users of the Small Business Customer Manager (SBCM) of the Microsoft Office Small Business Tools, "many prompts are displayed; however, the Customer Manager still works". And because emailed PowerPoint presentations are kicked off by a .js script, that's broken too.

So when Microsoft launches it's NGWS next month - which automates business to business data flows on a grand scale - we'll be curious to see if how it addresses security. ®

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