Feeds

MS explains 7-year patch delay

Legacy networking problem cure as bad as disease

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Microsoft has explained why it took seven years to patch a known vulnerability. Fixing the bug earlier would have taken out network applications and potential exploits alike, it explained.

Security bulletin MS08-068 fixed a flaw in the SMB (Server Message Block) component of Windows, first demonstrated by Sir Dystic of Cult of the Dead Cow fame at a hacking conference in 2001, if not before. The flaw opened the door to SMB replay or reflection attacks that would have allowed the operator of a malicious SMB server to run exploits on vulnerable PCs.

The flaw was rated as important by Microsoft but critical by some independent security watchers, such as the SANS Institute's Internet Storm Centre.

Microsoft explained the delay on issuing a patch on the effect a fix would have had on network-based applications. In a post on Microsoft's Security Response Blog, Christopher Budd explains that the SMBRElay attack worked in much the same way as its legacy NTLM protocol.

"When this issue was first raised back in 2001, we said that we could not make changes to address this issue without negatively impacting network-based applications. And to be clear, the impact would have been to render many (or nearly all) customers’ network-based applications then inoperable," Budd explained.

Interaction between programs, for example Outlook 2000 and Exchange 2000, would have been affected by a patch at the time, according to Budd. Redmond advised customers to apply a workaround - involving SMB signing - but always knew this approach had its limitations.

"We did say that customers who were concerned about this issue could use SMB signing as an effective mitigation, but, the reality was that there were similar constraints that made it infeasible for customers to implement SMB signing," Budd added.

Gradual changes Microsoft has introduced with successive versions of its software have reduced the scope of the flaw and allowing Redmond to (finally) issue a patch last Tuesday.

Security vendors criticised Microsoft for its delay in developing a patch, a failure which left customers open to attack. "Microsoft has known of this problem since 2001 and was not able to (or chose not to) fix it until now. This also means that working exploit code has been available for all Operating Systems including Windows NT 4, Windows 2000, XP, Windows Server 2003, Vista and Windows 2008. However, as Microsoft correctly states, exploitation is severely mitigated on Vista and Windows 2008," Eric Schultze, CTO at security tool firm Shavlik notes.

Tests for the vulnerability have been included with the Metasploit security tool since July 2007. Its developers are critical of Microsoft's long-waited update. "The MS08-068 patch addresses this attack only in the case where the attacker connects back to the victim ... The patch does NOT address the case where the attacker relays the connection to a third-party host that the victim has access to," Metasploit said. ®

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
Microsoft's Euro cloud darkens: US FEDS can dig into foreign servers
They're not emails, they're business records, says court
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Multipath TCP speeds up the internet so much that security breaks
Black Hat research says proposed protocol will bork network probes, flummox firewalls
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
Plug and PREY: Hackers reprogram USB drives to silently infect PCs
BadUSB instructs gadget chips to inject key-presses, redirect net traffic and more
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?