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Serious IE and Windows flaws left to fester

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Microsoft won't fix vulnerabilities in the latest versions of Internet Explorer or Windows during its regularly scheduled patch release on Tuesday, meaning users will have to wait at least another month to get updates that correct the security risks.

The software maker on Thursday said January's Patch Tuesday will include a single bulletin that fixes a vulnerability that carries a severity rating of "critical" in Windows 2000 and "low" in all other versions of the operating system. That's one of the slimmest ever offerings since Microsoft began the practice of releasing security fixes on the second Tuesday of every month.

That may lighten the load on IT admins, but it also means potentially serious vulnerabilities known to affect Internet Explorer 8 and Windows 7 will be allowed to fester for at least another 28 days.

As reported previously by El Reg, the IE 8 bug can enable attacks against people browsing websites that are otherwise safe to view. The flaw can be exploited to introduce XSS, or cross-site scripting, exploits on webpages, allowing attackers to inject malicious content and code. Ironically, it resides in a feature Microsoft added to harden the browser against that very type of attack.

There are no reports of hackers targeting the vulnerability, but several months ago, Google began overriding the XSS protection on many of its web properties citing a "significant flaw" in the IE8 feature. Jeremiah Grossman, a web application expert at WhiteHat Security, offers guidance here on whether webmasters should follow Google's lead.

Also remaining unfixed is a bug that allows an attacker to completely lock up systems running windows 7 and Windows 2008R2. The flaw, which resides in the OSes' SMB, or server message block, can be triggered remotely by sending malformed traffic that specifies incoming packets that are smaller or larger than they actually are. SMB is a network protocol used to provide shared access to files and printers.

Microsoft's Jerry Bryant said the company is still working on a fix for the SMB flaw and is not aware of any in-the-wild attacks that target the weakness.

Also coming Tuesday is an update for a critical vulnerability in Adobe's Reader and Acrobat applications that allow attackers to remotely execute malicious code on people who open booby-trapped PDF files. That vulnerability is being actively exploited in attacks aimed at specific individuals. ®

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