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Microsoft backtracks on WMF patch

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Microsoft has yielded to pressure and released a patch for the latest Windows security vulnerability – breaking its regular once-a-month update schedule.

The software giant has issued a software patch for the Windows Meta File (WMF) vulnerability that was uncovered on 27 December and confirmed on 28 December. Microsoft had initially planned to release the patch with other software updates and fixes on 10 January. The patch, MS06-001, is available here.

Microsoft's decision followed mounting criticism that it was leaving millions of users vulnerable to a growing number of WMF attacks, while experts had advised users to take the unprecedented step of downloading non-Microsoft fixes.

In a statement, Microsoft said it was acting following "strong customer sentiment that the release should be made available as soon as possible".

The u-turn comes in the same week that Microsoft had attempted to sooth concerns and silence critics by saying that, although the WMF vulnerability was serious and malicious attacks were being attempted by hackers, "Microsoft's intelligence sources indicated that the scope of the attacks are not widespread."

According to Microsoft, the WMF vulnerability only affects machines running Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, XP SP 1 and SP 2, XP Professional x64 Edition, Windows Server 2003 and Server 2003 SP 1 and Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition.

Older versions of Windows – Windows 98, 98 Second Edition and Millennium Edition – are going unpatched. While these versions of Windows do contain the affected component, Microsoft said the vulnerability is not critical because an "exploitable attack vector" has not been identified that would justify a critical severity rating. Microsoft will only release updates for "critical" security issues on these dating operating systems.

Users still running Windows NT and pre SP 4 versions of Windows 2000 also get nothing because these have reached the end of Microsoft's mandated support lifecycles. Instead, Microsoft has advised users to upgrade to later editions of Windows.®

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