Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle today each issued security updates to fix serious vulnerabilities in their products. Adobe released patches for AIR, Acrobat, Flash and Reader, while Microsoft pushed out fixes to shore up at least a half dozen security weaknesses in Windows and Office. Oracle released an update for Java that fixes at least three dozen security holes in the widely-used program.
All of the vulnerabilities that Microsoft fixed this month earned “important” ratings; not quite as dire as those labeled “critical,” which involve flaws so dangerous that they can be exploited by bad guys or malware to break into systems with no user interaction. Nevertheless, flaws marked “important” can be quite dangerous, particularly when used in tandem with other attack techniques.
By way of illustration, this month’s MS14-002 patch addresses an important zero-day flaw that was first found to be exploited in targeted attacks late last year. In one version of this attack, documented quite nicely in this fascinating yet somewhat technical writeup from Trustwave Spiderlabs, attackers used this Windows flaw in combination with a bug in Adobe Reader. According to Trustwave, the bad guys in that attack included the Windows flaw as a means of bypassing Adobe Reader’s security sandbox, a technology designed ensure that any malicious code embedded in documents only runs under limited privileges (i.e., isn’t allowed to invoke other programs or alter core system settings).
In short, don’t put off applying this month’s patches from Microsoft. They are available via Windows Update or Automatic Update. Also, Microsoft took this opportunity to remind Windows XP users that the company will no longer be supporting Windows XP after April 2014 (guess I will have to retire the above broken Windows graphic as well). The lack of ongoing security updates for XP means it will likely become an even bigger target for attackers; if you rely on XP, please consider transitioning to a newer operating system sometime soon. Who knows, it might be a great excuse to try Linux, which tends to be very light on resources and ideal for 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.