Adobe and Microsoft each issued updates to fix critical security vulnerabilities in their software today. Adobe patched its Flash Player software and Adobe AIR. Microsoft issued four updates to address at least 11 unique security flaws, including its final batch of fixes for Office 2003 and for systems powered by Windows XP.
Two of the four patches that Microsoft issued come with Redmond’s “critical” rating (its most severe), meaning attackers or malware can exploit the flaws to break into vulnerable systems without any help from users. One of the critical patches is a cumulative update for Internet Explorer (MS14-018); the other addresses serious issues with Microsoft Word and Office Web apps (MS14-017), including a fix for a zero-day vulnerability that is already being actively exploited. More information on these and other patches are available here.
As expected, Microsoft also used today’s patch release to pitch XP users on upgrading to a newer version of Windows, warning that attackers will begin to zero in on XP users even more now that Microsoft will no longer be issuing security updates for the 13-year-old operating system. From Microsoft’s Technet blog:
“From the year that Windows XP was built, cyber attacks have increased in sophistication. Systems receiving regular updates get the protections they need based on the latest cyber threats. But at some point an older model of any product will lack the capability to keep up and becomes antiquated. Obsolescence for Windows XP is just around the corner.
Cybercriminals will work to take advantage of businesses and people running software that no longer has updates available to repair issues. Over time, attackers will evolve their malicious software, malicious websites, and phishing attacks to take advantage of any newly discovered vulnerabilities in Windows XP, which post April 8th, will no longer be fixed.”
Microsoft offers free a Windows XP data transfer tool to ease the hassle of upgrading to a newer version of Windows. I would submit that if your PC runs XP and came with XP installed, that it might be time to upgrade the computer hardware itself in addition to the software. In any case, beyond this month is not the greatest idea, and it’s time for XP users to consider other options. Don’t forget that there are many flavors of Linux that will run quite happily on older hardware. If you’ve been considering the switch for a while, take a few distributions for a spin using one of dozens of flavors of Linux available via Live CD.
Adobe fixed at least four vulnerabilities in Flash, all of them critical. The company says it is not aware of any exploits in the wild against the flaws. The latest version is v. 126.96.36.199 for Windows, Mac and Linux systems. The Adobe advisory for the Flash update is here.
This link will tell you which version of Flash your browser has installed. IE10/IE11 for Windows 8.0/8.1 and Chrome should auto-update their versions of Flash. If your version of Flash on Chrome (on either Windows, Mac or Linux) is not yet updated, you may just need to close and restart the browser. The version of Chrome that includes this fix is 34.0.1847.116 for Windows, Mac, and Linux (to learn what version of Chrome you have, click the stacked bars to the right at of the address bar, and select “About Google Chrome” from the drop down menu).
The most recent versions of Flash are available from the Adobe download center, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan). To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer will need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.).
If you use Adobe AIR (required by some desktop software products such as Pandora, e.g.,), you’ll need to make sure that’s updated as well. AIR usually does a good job of checking for new versions on startup. If you’re not sure whether you have AIR installed or what version it’s at, see these directions. The latest version is 188.8.131.52, and is available for manual download here.