Microsoft delivered its monthly batch of security updates on Feb. 13, delivering fixes for 20 individual problems in its products included in a dozen bulletins, six of which were dubbed as critical, the firm's most severe vulnerability rating.
Among the security updates issued by Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft was a cumulative bulletin for the company's Internet Explorer browser which seeks to address three issues all ranked as critical by the software maker.
Included in the IE bulletin were fixes for a pair of COM (component object model) instantiation memory corruption vulnerabilities, and a fix for an FTP server response parsing memory corruption issue. The issues are rated as critical in versions of the browser previous to its current IE 7 iteration in which they rank as only "important" or "low."
In another cumulative bulletin, Microsoft issued patches for six individual problems in its Word products, five of which were rated as critical in the Office 2000 iteration of the product. Included in the update were fixes for a malformed strong vulnerability, malformed data structure flaw, malformed object drawing glitch, malformed function problem and a Word count issue, all of which received the critical designation in the Word 2000 version of the program.
An additional macro vulnerability and examples of the other five security problems present in later versions of Word were given the less severe ranking of important. However, all six of the Word vulnerabilities could lead to remote code execution by attackers if properly exploited, Microsoft stated.
In another Office-related bulletin, Microsoft distributed patches for two individual problems in the package, specifically detailing a malformed record memory corruption vulnerability in the product's PowerPoint presentation application, along with a malformed record issue discovered in the Excel spread sheet program. Both issues were ranked as critical in the Microsoft Office 2000 version of the productivity suite, and only as important in later iterations of the platform.
Among the other critical security bulletins issues by Microsoft was a fix for a problem in its HTML Help ActiveX Control software which ranked as critical in its Windows 2000 SP4 and Windows XP SP2 programs, and charted as only "moderate" in its Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 SP1 products. If exploited, the problem could allow affected computers to be taken over remotely by hackers, the company said.
Microsoft also moved to fix a well-publicized vulnerability in the Data Access Components element of its ActiveX software rated as critical that exists in its Windows 2000 SP4 and Windows XP SP2 products. The problem is also present in the firm's Windows Server 2003 package, but rated as only a moderate risk in that product.
Attempting to patch an embarrassing flaw in its own anti-virus software, Microsoft issued a patch for a critical problem in its Malware Protection Enginewhich is an element of nearly all the company's security products, including its Windows Live OneCare, Antigen for Exchange 9.x, Antigen for SMTP Gateway 9x, Windows Defender, and Forefront Security packages.
Like the other flaws addressed by Microsoft, the security product issues could also allow for remote code execution of affected computers, the company said.
Included in the six bulletins ranked by Microsoft as only important were fixes for problems in the company's step-by-step interactive training program, with related vulnerabilities cited in the firm's Windows 2000 SP2, Windows XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003 products.
Other important bulletins were shipped to address issues in the Windows shell technology, Windows image acquisition service and Windows OLE (object linking and embedding) dialog system. The company issued important patches for issues in its MFC (Microsoft Foundation Class) library technology in Windows, and its Visual Studio products, as well as to fix a problem in the RichEdit function of its Windows and Office programs.
Security researchers highlighted Microsoft's move to shut down at least six product vulnerabilities that have been used in so-called zero-day attacks, or malware threats aimed at flaws previously unrecognized by the software maker.
"Today Microsoft patched six vulnerabilities that were previously used in recent targeted zero-day attacks," Dave Marcus, security research and communications manager with McAfee's Avert Labs, said in a report.
"This continues the trend of malware authors targeting widely deployed Microsoft business applications and services. Malware authors continue to find unknown or unpatched vulnerabilities in popular applications and services which are then used in zero-day attacks, putting both business and consumer data at risk."
While Microsoft tied its record for its greatest number of security bulletins, having shipped another dozen of the updates in August 2006, the February 2007 release fell short of the company's record for the most individual patches, as some 23 individual issues were addressed in the August '06 shipment.
However, the February 2007 shipment does establish a high-water mark for critical patches released by the software vendor in one month as Microsoft addressed only 10 issues earmarked as critical in the August '06 batch of patches, while the February '07 release seeks to fix a total of 11 critical security problems.