Alan Liska

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, Sept. 2020 Edition

Microsoft today released updates to remedy nearly 130 security vulnerabilities in its Windows operating system and supported software. None of the flaws are known to be currently under active exploitation, but 23 of them could be exploited by malware or malcontents to seize complete control of Windows computers with little or no help from users.

The majority of the most dangerous or “critical” bugs deal with issues in Microsoft’s various Windows operating systems and its web browsers, Internet Explorer and Edge. September marks the seventh month in a row Microsoft has shipped fixes for more than 100 flaws in its products, and the fourth month in a row that it fixed more than 120.

Among the chief concerns for enterprises this month is CVE-2020-16875, which involves a critical flaw in the email software Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 and 2019. An attacker could leverage the Exchange bug to run code of his choosing just by sending a booby-trapped email to a vulnerable Exchange server.

“That doesn’t quite make it wormable, but it’s about the worst-case scenario for Exchange servers,” said Dustin Childs, of Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative. “We have seen the previously patched Exchange bug CVE-2020-0688 used in the wild, and that requires authentication. We’ll likely see this one in the wild soon. This should be your top priority.”

Also not great for companies to have around is CVE-2020-1210, which is a remote code execution flaw in supported versions of Microsoft Sharepoint document management software that bad guys could attack by uploading a file to a vulnerable Sharepoint site. Security firm Tenable notes that this bug is reminiscent of CVE-2019-0604, another Sharepoint problem that’s been exploited for cybercriminal gains since April 2019.

Microsoft fixed at least five other serious bugs in Sharepoint versions 2010 through 2019 that also could be used to compromise systems running this software. And because ransomware purveyors have a history of seizing upon Sharepoint flaws to wreak havoc inside enterprises, companies should definitely prioritize deployment of these fixes, says Alan Liska, senior security architect at Recorded Future.

Todd Schell at Ivanti reminds us that Patch Tuesday isn’t just about Windows updates: Google has shipped a critical update for its Chrome browser that resolves at least five security flaws that are rated high severity. If you use Chrome and notice an icon featuring a small upward-facing arrow inside of a circle to the right of the address bar, it’s time to update. Completely closing out Chrome and restarting it should apply the pending updates.

Once again, there are no security updates available today for Adobe’s Flash Player, although the company did ship a non-security software update for the browser plugin. The last time Flash got a security update was June 2020, which may suggest researchers and/or attackers have stopped looking for flaws in it. Adobe says it will retire the plugin at the end of this year, and Microsoft has said it plans to completely remove the program from all Microsoft browsers via Windows Update by then.

Before you update with this month’s patch batch, please make sure you have backed up your system and/or important files. It’s not uncommon for Windows updates to hose one’s system or prevent it from booting properly, and some updates even have known to erase or corrupt files.

So do yourself a favor and backup before installing any patches. Windows 10 even has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once.

And if you wish to ensure Windows has been set to pause updating so you can back up your files and/or system before the operating system decides to reboot and install patches on its own schedule, see this guide.

As always, if you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a better-than-even chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with some helpful tips.

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, February 2020 Edition

Microsoft today released updates to plug nearly 100 security holes in various versions of its Windows operating system and related software, including a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer (IE) that is actively being exploited. Also, Adobe has issued a bevy of security updates for its various products, including Flash Player and Adobe Reader/Acrobat.

A dozen of the vulnerabilities Microsoft patched today are rated “critical,” meaning malware or miscreants could exploit them remotely to gain complete control over an affected system with little to no help from the user.

Last month, Microsoft released an advisory warning that attackers were exploiting a previously unknown flaw in IE. That vulnerability, assigned as CVE-2020-0674, has been patched with this month’s release. It could be used to install malware just by getting a user to browse to a malicious or hacked Web site.

Microsoft once again fixed a critical flaw in the way Windows handles shortcut (.lnk) files (CVE-2020-0729) that affects Windows 8 and 10 systems, as well as Windows Server 2008-2012. Allan Liska, intelligence analyst at Recorded Future, says Microsoft considers exploitation of the vulnerability unlikely, but that a similar vulnerability discovered last year, CVE-2019-1280, was being actively exploited by the Astaroth trojan as recently as September.

Another flaw fixed this month in Microsoft Exchange 2010 through 2019 may merit special attention. The bug could allow attackers to exploit the Exchange Server and execute arbitrary code just by sending a specially crafted email. This vulnerability (CVE-2020-0688) is rated “important” rather than “critical,” but Liska says it seems potentially dangerous, as Microsoft identifies this as a vulnerability that is likely to be exploited.

In addition, Redmond addressed a critical issue (CVE-2020-0618) in the way Microsoft SQL Server versions 2012-2016 handle page requests.

After a several-month respite from patches for its Flash Player browser plug-in, Adobe has once again blessed us with a security update for this program (fixes one critical flaw). Thankfully, Chrome and Firefox both now disable Flash by default, and Chrome and IE/Edge auto-update the program when new security updates are available. Adobe is slated to retire Flash Player later this year.

Other Adobe products for which the company shipped updates today include Experience Manager, Digital Editions, Framemaker and Acrobat/Reader (17 flaws). Security experts at Qualys note that on January 28th, Adobe also issued an out-of-band patch for Magento, labeled as Priority 2.

“While none of the vulnerabilities disclosed in Adobe’s release are known to be Actively Attacked today, all patches should be prioritized on systems with these products installed,” said Qualys’s Jimmy Graham.

Windows 7 users should be aware by now that while a fair number of flaws addressed this month by Microsoft affect Windows 7 systems, this operating system is no longer being supported with security updates (unless you’re an enterprise taking advantage of Microsoft’s paid extended security updates program, which is available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 enterprise users).

If you rely on Windows 7 for day-to-day use, it’s probably time to think about upgrading to something newer. That might be a computer with Windows 10. Or maybe you have always wanted that shiny MacOS computer.

If cost is a primary motivator and the user you have in mind doesn’t do much with the system other than browsing the Web, perhaps a Chromebook or an older machine with a recent version of Linux is the answer (Ubuntu may be easiest for non-Linux natives). Whichever system you choose, it’s important to pick one that fits the owner’s needs and provides security updates on an ongoing basis.

Keep in mind that while staying up-to-date on Windows patches is a must, it’s important to make sure you’re updating only after you’ve backed up your important data and files. A reliable backup means you’re not losing your mind when the odd buggy patch causes problems booting the system.

So do yourself a favor and backup your files before installing any patches. Windows 10 even has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once.

As always, if you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a better-than-even chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with some helpful tips. Also, keep an eye on the AskWoody blog from Woody Leonhard, who keeps a close eye on buggy Microsoft updates each month.