By Robert McMillan
IDG News Service
Microsoft has released nine security updates for vulnerabilities in
its software products, including three critical fixes for Windows and
Internet Explorer. Among the updates is a patch for bugs in two
separate components of the Windows operating system that security
researchers believe could be exploited in by attackers in much the
same way that the Zotob family of worms were used two months ago.
The software patches, called updates in Microsoft parlance, were
released Tuesday as part of the company's monthly security software
release. Two of the critical updates concern Internet Explorer and
Microsoft's DirectShow media streaming software. A third update,
described in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS05-051, concerns the COM+
services included with Windows as well as the Microsoft Distributed
Transaction Coordinator (MSDTC), a component of the operating system
that is commonly used by database software to help manage
It is these last two vulnerabilities that have security researchers
concerned because of their similarity to the Windows Plug and Play
(PnP) system vulnerability reported last August. Within a week of its
disclosure, that flaw was exploited by the authors of the Zotob worm.
Variations of this attack eventually knocked hundreds of thousands of
machines offline, primarily affecting Windows 2000 users.
Microsoft has rated the MSDTC vulnerability as "critical" for users of
Windows 2000, meaning the vulnerability could be used by attackers to
seize control of any unpatched system. The COM+ bug is rated critical
for Windows 2000 and Windows XP, Service Pack 1.
Security researchers say that another Zotob-style worm outbreak is now
a possibility. "The COM+ and MSDTC vulnerabilities have a very similar
appearance to the PnP vulnerability that caused Zotob," said Mike
Murray, director of vulnerability and exposure research for security
vendor nCircle Network Security.
Internet Security Systems' Neel Mehta, agreed that there were
similarities between the PnP bug exploited by Zotob and MS05-051. "The
scope of the affected platform is exactly the same and these services
are run by default on Windows 2000," said Mehta, who is team leader of
the company's X-Force research team. "In terms of ease of
exploitation, they're not incredibly difficult to exploit, but they're
not as easy as the Plug and Play vulnerability"
Mehta is also concerned with the DirectShow bug. By tricking users
into viewing malicious programs that appeared to be legitimate
multimedia files, attackers could seize control of unpatched Windows
systems, he said. "It requires user interaction of some sort, which
takes it down a notch from MS05-051, but it is still a serious
Microsoft has rated the DirectShow flaw "critical" for a wider range
of Windows systems than the COM+ and MSDTC bugs. It has been rated
critical for Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, Windows 98
and Windows ME.
Though the COM+ and MSDTC bugs will probably get a lot of attention,
because they could be used in worm attacks, the DirectShow or IE flaws
are also dangerous, and could be used by thieves as the basis of a
targeted attack, said Marc Maiffret, chief hacking officer with eEye
Digital Security. "The other vulnerabilities I think of as worse in a
way because it's an easier way to target a specific corporate user,"
The other security updates released Tuesday include "important"
patches for Client Services for NetWare, the Windows Plug and Play
system, Microsoft Collaboration Data Objects, and the Windows Shell.
"Moderate" bugs have also been patched in the Windows FTP (File
Transfer Protocol) client and the Network Connection manager.
Tuesday's flurry of releases comes after a very quiet September for
Microsoft's security team. Last month, Microsoft had planned to
release only one security patch, but ended up scrapping the update at
the last minute due to "quality issues."
Though Microsoft executives were unavailable for additional comment on
the October security updates, the company said that the critical
Internet Explorer vulnerability, covered in Security Bulletin
MS05-052, was the bug the company had planned to fix in September.
Microsoft has been told that this IE bug is already being exploited by
hackers, the company said in a statement attributed to Stephen
Toulouse, security program manager with the Microsoft Security
More information on the October Security Bulletins can be found here .
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