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Microsoft's delay to patch fuels concerns

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Microsoft's decision to cancel a security fix after finding problems with the patch has security experts questioning whether waiting for the fix to come next month might leave them open to attack.

The concerns come after Microsoft announced last Thursday that a critical fix for the Windows operating system would be distributed in the following week. The next day, the software giant pulled the planned patch due to quality issues, according to Mike Reavey, operations manager for the Microsoft Security Research Center.

"Late in the testing process, we encountered a quality issue that we decided was significant enough that it required some more testing and development before releasing it," Reavey said in a posting to the MSRC Blog. "We have made a commitment to only release high-quality updates that fix the issues at hand, and therefore we felt it was in the best interest of our customers to not release this update until it undergoes further testing."

The few details that the software giant has provided - the flaw is a critical bug in Windows and does not require a reboot to fix - will not likely help would-be flaw finders to narrow their search. If the company had actually released a flawed patch, attackers could have reverse engineered the fix to find the original flaw. Since no real details of the issue were published, however, there is little danger, a spokesperson for the software giant said.

Yet, the move has left network administrators feeling vulnerable. The knowledge that a critical flaw is being left untended has security researchers second guessing whether Microsoft plans to release the patch next month, and if so, has the company's focus on regularly scheduled patching put them in danger.

"There's knowledge of a flaw and, because (Microsoft) can't meet the deadline of the next few days, they're going to delay it a month," said one member of the DShield mailing list. "So from a security point of view, we have a hole that is known but not patched."

The person who posted the criticism did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

Microsoft has not specified when the company plans to release the patch. The release schedule will be determined by "customer need," a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

While another month's ferment may not make the current vulnerability more threatening, the move towards scheduled patches generally makes corporate customers less secure, said Marc Maiffret, chief hacking officer for eEye Digital Security and a critic of scheduled security updates.

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