Microsoft's Moves Against Flame May Disrupt Patching

Gregg Keizer June 8, 2012
Company plans to update Windows Update before shipping 28 patches next week

Microsoft today said it would deliver seven security updates next week, three critical, to patch 28 bugs in Windows, Internet Explorer, Office and other programs in its portfolio.

But Microsoft's promise to start pushing an update to Windows Update this week -- part of its response to the Flame espionage malware -- could disrupt this month's patching, one expert warned.

The number of updates was right on the average so far this year of seven per month, yet another indication that although Microsoft once used an even-odd schedule, patching more vulnerabilities in the even months, it has discarded the model.

"It's totally flat-lined," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security. "The up-and-down is totally gone."

This month's Patch Tuesday will fix the largest number of vulnerabilities -- 28 all told -- this year. In May, Microsoft fixed 23 security flaws.

Of the seven updates, Microsoft tagged three as "critical," the highest threat ranking in its four-step scoring, and the other four as "important," the next-most serious rating.

One update will address all supported versions of IE, ranging from the 11-year-old IE6 to last year's IE9; four will affect Windows; and the remaining pair will tackle vulnerabilities in all versions of Office on Windows and Dynamics AX 2012, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) product.

Storms singled out the IE update, identified in the advance notification as one of the three critical bulletins, as most likely to climb to the top of users' to-do lists.

"That's going to be the obvious one to deploy first," Storms said, using the long-established logic of security professionals to patch the browser with haste because of its widespread use and its broad attack surface.

Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Rapid7, agreed. "Browser exploits provide the most bang for the buck," Carey said in an email Thursday.

Storms suspected that the IE update will include a patch for one or more of the bugs used by a French security company to hack the browser at the 2012 version of Pwn2Own, an annual contest that pits researchers against software for cash prizes.

At Pwn2Own, Vupen Security exploited a pair of "zero-day" vulnerabilities to bypass Windows 7's defensive technologies and escape from IE9's "Protected Mode," the browser's limited-rights anti-exploit system.

For its work, which included hacks of IE9 and Google's Chrome, Vupen took home $60,000 in prize money.