Patch Tuesday Fixes Critical Excel, Outlook, Web Component and Office Flaws

Microsoft rolled out four "critical" security bulletins -- all with as many as 12 remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities, according to security experts.

As expected, March is the month of the Microsoft Office suite patch. Microsoft rolled out four "critical" security bulletins -- all with as many as 12 remote code execution (RCE) vulnerabilities, according to security experts.

"Because all four of the patches affect Microsoft Office, these patches cannot be ignored or delayed," said Don Leatham, director of solutions and strategy for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Lumension Security. "Microsoft Office is the leading productivity suite in use by the very large majority of organizations, from small businesses to global enterprises, so these critical patches should be seriously considered for immediate deployment by all enterprises."

The first "critical" fix is for several versions of Excel including 2000 SP3. However, it is deemed as only "important" for Excel 2003 and Excel 2007, as well as Office 2004 and 2008 for Mac. SP3 of Excel 2003 is not affected by this hole.

This is Redmond's long-anticipated Excel "zero day" patch addressing an issue first reported in January.

"Patch this one ASAP if you have exposure to malformed Excel documents on a regular basis," said Eric Schultze, chief technology officer for St. Paul, Minn.-based Shavlik Technologies. "Angst-ridden computer users can now sleep easy knowing that they can now open malicious Excel documents without fear of being hacked."

The next patch fixes a flaw in the way Outlook 2000 SP3, Outlook 2002 SP3, Outlook 2003 SP2 and SP3, and Outlook 2007 handle certain e-mail links. With the flaw left unpatched, a random hacker could create a specially crafted Web page with a link that said, for instance, "click here to e-mail me." Or the hacker can simply paste a malicious Web address link into the body of the e-mail or simply an e-mail address with a hyperlink. Clicking on that e-mail link enables the intruder to run code on the network via an RCE exploit that the patch addresses.

The third item is a typical client-side vulnerability fix. Redmond said the security update resolves two privately reported vulnerabilities in Office that could allow remote code execution if a user opens a malformed Office file. The bulletin is rated "critical" only for Office 2000 SP3 and "important" for Office XP SP3 and Office for Mac 2004.

The last fix for this month's release is deemed "critical" and affects Office Web Components 2000. Microsoft says it has already released several updates but this patch signifies that the software giant is playing it safe to protect programs such as Visual Studio .NET, BizTalk Server, Office 2000 and XP.

Ben Greenbaum, senior research manager for Symantec Security Response, said all of this month's bulletins are serious, but that the one for Office Web Components stands out because "these ActiveX components are widely distributed and relatively easy to exploit."

"We've observed attackers continuing to target Web plug-ins in their quest to quickly and quietly install malicious code onto user's computers," Greenbaum said.

Out of all the patches, the last is the only one that may require a restart, according to Microsoft.

In addition to its monthly update of its Windows Malicious Software removal tool, Redmond rolled out two non-security, high-priority updates on Microsoft Update (MU) and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), as well as three non-security, high-priority updates for Windows on Windows Update (WU) and WSUS.

Read this month's security bulletin here.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.

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