By Ryan Naraine
September 8, 2005
Microsoft on Thursday announced plans to ship one security bulletin on
Tuesday, Sept. 13, to provide patches for a "critical" flaw in its
Windows operating system.
As part of its advance notice mechanism, the Redmond, Wash.-based
software giant said the security update will require a restart and can
be detected with the MBSA (Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer) tool.
The solitary bulletin will give IT administrators a temporary respite
from patching - especially after the clean-up from the recent Zotob
worm attacks - but to many in the security research community, it
underscores Microsoft Corp.'s sluggish approach to addressing known
eEye Digital Security, a private research firm with headquarters in
Aliso Viejo, Calif., maintains a Web page of Upcoming Advisories that
have been validated by software vendors.
Next Tuesday, when Microsoft ships the Windows update, one of the
eEye-discovered flaws will be 108 days overdue.
eEye starts counting overdue days a full 60 days after a vulnerability
has been "validated" by a software vendor, which means that Microsoft
has been aware of the security hole for more than five and a half
In all, eEye has reported nine vulnerabilities that have been
validated by officials at the MSRC (Microsoft Security Response
Center). Three of the nine flaws are more than two months overdue and
all carry a "high severity" risk rating.
Customers at risk include users of the widely deployed Internet
Explorer browser, the Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express mail
clients, and various versions of Windows.
"It's safe to assume that once we find a flaw, someone else will
probably find it. The problem here is that someone malicious might
find it and exploit it before Microsoft can provide full protection,"
said Steve Manzuik, product manager in eEye's research group.
"There are some extremely smart hackers out there using and sharing
the tools that find these vulnerabilities. When Microsoft takes a long
time to issue fixes, it sets up a dangerous situation," Manzuik said
in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.
"This month, Microsoft is only issuing one patch and we already know
it's not one of ours. That means that our overdue list will keep
getting longer and longer," Manzuik added.
eEye is not the only private research outfit finding and reporting
vulnerabilities to Microsoft. Most companies do not keep a running
tally of the flaws they report, and some keep the information under
wraps until Microsoft ships the required update.
"This all goes back to the responsible disclosure debate," said Thor
Larholm, senior security researcher at PivX Solutions Inc., a Newport
Beach, Calif.-based security consulting firm.
"The longer it takes Microsoft to address a known vulnerability, the
higher the probability that one of the 'bad guys' will find it and
release the details to the public. Microsoft has a responsibility to
get these fixes out quickly," Larholm said.
Both Manzuik and Larholm acknowledged that Microsoft has improved
significantly in its response to software security, but they argue
that the company must find a way to avoid lengthy delays.
"Microsoft is no longer the worst offender when it comes to sitting on
patches. Oracle has taken that crown," Larholm said. "But I think
there's still a culture at Microsoft that security is a PR issue that
must be handled delicately. And that's a dangerous culture."
"Overall, they have improved, there's no doubt about that. But unless
they move faster on some of these high-impact vulnerabilities, we'll
always deal with rogue researchers finding the same things," Manzuik
Inevitably, zero-day exploits along with full details of the unpatched
flaw are released on underground sites, putting millions of Microsoft
customers at risk.
"It would be really nice to see Microsoft turn around a patch in
between 60 and 90 days. Considering the size of the company and the
way some of these Internet-facing software [apps] are complicated, the
90-day window isn't that bad. But when it creeps up to three and four
months, it becomes unacceptable," eEye's Manzuik said.
A spokesperson for the MSRC said Microsoft is still testing the
reported vulnerabilities, and that patch quality will take precedence
"Security response is a delicate balance of time and testing, and
Microsoft will only issue an update when it has been fully tested and
deemed a complete fix for the issue," the spokesperson said in an
"Microsoft has the ability to test on all platforms with a number of
different tools and with the developers of each product. Microsoft is
able to test more thoroughly than an independent researcher, and has a
responsibility to get the update right. They will not compromise the
accountability to customers," she added.
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California