Now it’s Office’s turn to have a load of patches pulled

Now it’s Office’s turn to have a load of patches pulled

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After endless difficulties with the Windows 10 October 2018 update—finally re-released this month with the data-loss bug fixed—it seems that now it's the Office team's turn to release some updates that need to be un-released.

On November's Patch Tuesday two weeks ago, Microsoft released a bunch of updates for Office to update its Japanese calendars. In December 2017, Emperor Akihito announced that he would abdicate and that his son Naruhito would take his role as emperor. Each emperor has a corresponding era name, and calendars must be updated to reflect that new name. The Office patches offer updates to handle this event.

Two of these updates, KB2863821 and KB4461522, both for Office 2010, are apparently very broken, causing application crashes. The company has suspended delivery of the patches, but the problem is so severe that Microsoft is recommending that anyone who has installed the updates already should uninstall them pronto (see instructions for KB2863821 here and for KB4461522 here).

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Windows 10 support extended again: September releases now get 30 months

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Enlarge / Licensing is not really the easiest topic to illustrate. (credit: Peter Bright)

In its continued efforts to encourage corporate customers to make the switch to Windows 10, Microsoft is shaking up its support and life cycle plans again. Support for some Windows 10 releases is being extended, and the company is offering new services to help detect and address compatibility issues should they arise.

The new policy builds on and extends the commitments made in February this year. Microsoft has settled on two annual feature updates (the "Semi-Annual Channel," SAC) to Windows 10, one finalized in March (and delivered in April) and the other finalized in September (and delivered in October). Initially, the company promised 18 months of support for each feature update, a policy that would allow customers to defer deployment of feature updates or even skip some updates entirely. Going forward, the September releases are going to see even longer support periods; for Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education, each September release will receive 30 months of servicing. In principle, an organization that stuck to the September releases could go two years between feature updates.

Customers of Windows 10 Home, Pro, and Pro for Workstations will continue to receive only 18 months of updates for both March and September releases.

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Microsoft’s recent success in blocking in-the-wild attacks is eerily good

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Microsoft engineers have neutralized a series of attacks that took control of targeted computers by exploiting independent vulnerabilities in Word and Windows. Remarkably, the software maker said fixes or partial mitigations for all four security bugs were released before it received private reports of the attacks.

Both versions of the attacks used malformed Word documents that were attached to phishing e-mails sent to a highly select group of targets. The malicious documents chained together two exploits, one that targeted flaws in an Encapsulated PostScript filter in Word and the other that targeted elevation-of-privilege bugs in Windows so that the attack could break out of the security sandbox that fortifies Office. Encapsulated PostScript is an old format that's rarely used any more.

One version of the attacks combined an exploit for a Word EPS flaw designated as CVE-2017-0261 with an exploit for CVE-2017-0001, a Windows privilege-escalation bug. By the time Microsoft received a private report of ongoing attacks in March, the company had already released a partial fix as part of its March Update Tuesday release. A second attack version exploited an EPS flaw indexed as CVE-2017-0262 in combination with CVE-2017-0263, a separate Windows privilege-elevation flaw.

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It’s 2016, so why is the world still falling for Office macro malware?

In the late 1990s, Microsoft Office macros were a favorite vehicle for surreptitiously installing malware on the computers of unsuspecting targets. Microsoft eventually disabled the automated scripts by default, a setting that forced attackers to look for new infection methods. Remotely exploiting security bugs in Internet Explorer, Adobe Flash, and other widely used software soon came into favor.

Over the past two years, Office Macros have made a dramatic comeback that has reached almost a fevered pitch in the past few months. Booby-trapped Excel macros, for instance, were one of the means by which Ukrainian power authorities were infected in the weeks or months leading up to December's hacker-caused outage that affected 225,000 people. "Locky," a particularly aggressive strain of crypto ransomware that appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago, also relies on Word macros. The return of the macro-delivered malware seemed to begin in late 2014 with the advent of a then-new banking trojan called Dridex.

The return of the macro may have been a reaction to security improvements that Adobe, Microsoft, and Oracle have made to their software. Not only were the companies patching dangerous bugs more quickly, but in many cases, they fortified their code with defenses that caused exploits to simply crash the application rather than force it to execute malicious code. Streamlined update mechanisms and greater end user awareness about the importance of installing security patches right away may also have made code-execution exploits to fall out of favor.

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