Feeds

Microsoft sics worldwide braintrust on XP vuln

PDF attack prompts round-the-clock patch fest

Website security in corporate America

Escalating attacks exploiting a serious weakness in PDF files have prompted Microsoft to issue an all-hands-on-deck call to fix a vulnerability that lurks in the bowels of Windows XP.

"We currently have teams worldwide who are working around the clock to develop an update of appropriate quality for broad distribution," Bill Sisk, a member of Microsoft's security response team wrote in a blog post Thursday. "Because ShellExecute is a core part of Windows, our development and testing teams are taking extra care to minimize application compatibility issues."

In the meantime, users should take extra care when receiving email attachments, even when delivered from known sources, and when visiting familiar or unknown websites, Sisk said. He didn't mention updates Adobe has issued here for its Reader program or here, but installing them immediately is also critical.

Sisk's warning is being prompted by a flurry of spam-carrying rigged PDF files that exploit the vulnerability. Based on reports by independent researchers, the emails appear to be on the rise. According to Ken Dunham, director of global response for iSIGHT Partners, one source of his intercepted more than 75,000 hostile PDF attachments in the past few days, a rate that translates to one sample every 10 seconds.

"Multiple private sources are now reporting a high volume of emails containing hostile PDF attachments," Dunham wrote in an email.

F-Secure is also reporting malware-tainted PDF are "being spammed heavily through email."

The urgency and transparency Microsoft is showing is commendable. But let's not forget that for more than three months, Redmond's security pros maintained that weaknesses resulting when third-party applications passed malicious uniform resource identifiers (URIs) to Internet Explorer was "not a vulnerability in a Microsoft product." As such, Redmond maintained, responsibility for plugging the hole lay elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, the software juggernaut, (which, incidentally, stunned Wall Street yesterday with strong quarterly earnings, largely on the sale of desktop titles) reversed itself on this position, admitting for the first time that the URI-handling weakness was an issue that had to be addressed by Microsoft.

The change of heart came as it became increasingly clear that the URI-handling weakness was doomed to repeat itself over and over on countless third-party apps. As Sisk put it, "...these third party updates do not resolve the vulnerability - they just close an attack vector."

Microsoft isn't due to issue another patch batch until November 13. ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Blood-crazed Microsoft axes Trustworthy Computing Group
Security be not a dirty word, me Satya. But crevice, bigod...
Snowden, Dotcom, throw bombs into NZ election campaign
Claim of tapped undersea cable refuted by Kiwi PM as Kim claims extradition plot
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.