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Microsoft serves light fare on Patch Tuesday

No critical patches for most Windows users

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Microsoft served comparatively modest fare for its monthly patch release on Tuesday, issuing only four security-related updates, only one of which carried its top severity rating of critical. It plugged a hole in a Windows 2000 component, while the other updates fixed vulnerabilities rated as important in instant messenger programs, Visual Studio .Net and Windows services for Unix found on several different versions of the Windows operating system.

In a rare event, the typical Windows user is likely to have just one patch to install. It addresses a vulnerability in the MSN Instant Messenger and Windows Live Messenger that could allow an attacker to take over a machine by tricking a victim into clicking on a specially crafted chat request. Despite MSN Messenger being installed on every copy of Windows, Microsoft rated the flaw important, presumably because it can't be exploited without the user taking action first.

Some users may have no patches to install, as was the case with this reporter. That's because the vulnerability doesn't affect Windows Live Messenger version 8.1, which was installed on the machine. A spokeswoman says other versions of Windows Live Messenger don't use Windows Update to install new updates. Instead, the client prompts the user to install a new version, she said. Windows Update still encouraged us to run Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, as it does every month.

The rest of the updates apply to more technically inclined users. The most serious is the patch for a Windows 2000 component known as Microsoft Agent, which fixes a critical vulnerability that could allow an attacker to remotely execute code of his choosing. A third flaw affecting Visual Studio could also allow a remote execution, but only if a user opens a specially crafted RPT file. The last vulnerability, which affects Windows Services for UNIX 3.0, Windows Services for UNIX 3.5, and Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications, could allow an attacker to elevate privileges.

A fifth patch that had been planned for today was pulled for reasons that are not entirely clear. It was to address a vulnerability in SharePoint and had a severity rating of important. "Once Microsoft has developed and tested a security update that meets its quality bar for release, it will release the final update for this affected product along with a bulletin as part of Microsoft’s regularly scheduled process," a company spokeswoman said. You might say this month's Patch Tuesday was a small snack. By comparison, August's release required users to gorge on nine patches, six of which were rated critical. Internet phone provider Skype said the binge triggered a system-wide outage that lasted several days. The explanation left many of us scratching our heads because Patch Tuesday has been a regular fixture for several years now, and it was unclear why the update bundle only recently wreaked havoc. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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