SQL Injection Hits Amid the Holidays

Redmond continues to investigate a new zero-day bug affecting popular database application SQL Server.

Redmond continues to investigate a new zero-day bug affecting popular database application SQL Server.

While Microsoft spokesman Bill Sisk on Tuesday did acknowledge that hackers using this exploit could gain access over a whole enterprise processing environment through this increasingly common SQL injection attack, he said Microsoft is not aware that any such incursions have occurred leveraging this particular unpatched hole.

The exploit in question is triggered using a SQL Server extended stored procedure command as an entry point into an infected system. Extending stored procedure is a process by which the database interacts with the operating system via a linked library function during the application's runtime. Such a process is key to continued maintenance of any given database powered by SQL.

According to the software giant, the remote code execution exploit affects SQL Server 2000, versions of SQL Server 2005, SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine apps and Windows Internal Database, also known as WYukon.

The recent glut of zero-day bugs for Windows products -- which includes a vulnerability for Internet Explorer that got patched last week -- has reignited debate among some security pros about disclosure of proof of concept exploits versus purposely releasing malicious bugs into the wild -- research for the common good versus research for notoriety or the sake of vindictiveness.

The SQL flaw, for which Microsoft put out the security advisory late Monday was first made public in mid-December by Austria-based SEC Consult advisory, which said the SQL flaw makes it possible for hackers to target the vulnerability remotely on Web sites that link search boxes, customer databases or other Web apps to SQL Server. It was SEC Consult's report that eventually led to this patch, as the independent research shop claims they told Microsoft about the flaw in April and by mid-December seemed to grow weary of the software giant dragging its feet.

Lag time or not, disclosure of an unpatched flaw of this magnitude is a "no-no," according to Eric Schultze, Chief Technology Officer of Shavlik Technologies.

"This is an example of irresponsible disclosure," he said. "The person or people that found that issue did take the proper steps to report it to Microsoft; however, they grew impatient. This so-called security researcher has therefore placed thousands of servers and potentially untold number of person's privately identifiable information at risk for purposes of their own popularity."

This development is particularly important to security pros because while the SQL Server injection is by itself a rather complicated vector through which to hatch a nefarious hack, a seasoned interloper could in theory use remote code execution through the embattled Internet Explorer and then deploy the SQL Server bug.

"The recent zero-day Internet Explorer bug has highlighted the large number of Web sites vulnerable to SQL injection," added Schultze. "These Web Sites are now vulnerable to more serious attacks using this zero-day SQL flaw. In other words, what was bad has now become worse."

There had been some strides made to protecting customers before this advisory. On the week of Dec. 15, Microsoft released the latest beta versions of its Code Analysis Tool and Anti-Cross Site Scripting Library for developers, a critical part of which is a tool to identify vulnerabilities to SQL injection attacks and other incursions.

Going forward, Microsoft will address the SQL issue further either through a new service pack release, another off-cycle patch release or by way of its regular monthly security rollout.

The channel through which future hotfixes or workarounds are deployed will be based on customer needs, the advisory said.

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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