Feeds

Critical and unpatched, Windows XP bug is under attack

Red meat for full disclosure critics

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Five days after it was disclosed in a highly controversial advisory, a critical vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows XP operating system is being exploited by criminal hackers, researchers from anti-virus provider Sophos said on Tuesday.

The flaw in the Windows Help and Support Center was disclosed on Thursday by researcher Tavis Ormandy. His public advisory came just five days after he privately informed Microsoft of the defect, prompting fierce criticism from some circles that he hadn't given the software giant adequate time to fix the hole. That made it easier for attackers to target the bug, which allows attackers to take complete control of vulnerable machines when a user views a specially designed webpage, the critics howled.

According to Sophos, researchers have seen the first case of a website using the vulnerability to install malicious software on victim machines. “This malware downloads and executes an additional malicious component (Troj/Drop-FS) on the victim’s computer, by exploiting this vulnerability,” they warned.

Microsoft soon amended its own advisory on the vulnerability to say researchers are “aware of limited, targeted active attacks that use this exploit code.” Although the vulnerability also afflicts Windows Server 2003, Microsoft's advisory said that OS wasn't “currently at risk from these attacks.”

Ormandy's advisory has reignited the age-old debate over full disclosure, in which researchers publish complete details of a vulnerability under the belief that it is the best way to ensure a company fixes it quickly. Ormandy has defended his decision to give Microsoft just five days of advanced warning saying in a recent tweet: “I'm getting pretty tired of all the '5 days' hate mail. Those five days were spent trying to negotiate a fix within 60 days.”

Users of XP and Server 2003 should consider disabling features within Help Center that allow administrators to remotely log onto machines. For individual users, the easiest way to do this is to use the online “Fixit” application Microsoft has provided here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.