Microsoft Patch Tuesday, August 2020 Edition

Microsoft today released updates to plug at least 120 security holes in its Windows operating systems and supported software, including two newly discovered vulnerabilities that are actively being exploited. Yes, good people of the Windows world, it’s time once again to backup and patch up!

At least 17 of the bugs squashed in August’s patch batch address vulnerabilities Microsoft rates as “critical,” meaning they can be exploited by miscreants or malware to gain complete, remote control over an affected system with little or no help from users. This is the sixth month in a row Microsoft has shipped fixes for more than 100 flaws in its products.

The most concerning of these appears to be CVE-2020-1380, which is a weaknesses in Internet Explorer that could result in system compromise just by browsing with IE to a hacked or malicious website. Microsoft’s advisory says this flaw is currently being exploited in active attacks.

The other flaw enjoying active exploitation is CVE-2020-1464, which is a “spoofing” bug in virtually supported version of Windows that allows an attacker to bypass Windows security features and load improperly signed files.

Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative points to another fix — CVE-2020-1472 — which involves a critical issue in Windows Server versions that could let an unauthenticated attacker gain administrative access to a Windows domain controller and run an application of their choosing. A domain controller is a server that responds to security authentication requests in a Windows environment, and a compromised domain controller can give attackers the keys to the kingdom inside a corporate network.

“It’s rare to see a Critical-rated elevation of privilege bug, but this one deserves it,” said ZDI’S Dustin Childs. “What’s worse is that there is not a full fix available.”

Perhaps the most “elite” vulnerability addressed this month earned the distinction of being named CVE-2020-1337, and refers to a security hole in the Windows Print Spooler service that could allow an attacker or malware to escalate their privileges on a system if they were already logged on as a regular (non-administrator) user.

Satnam Narang at Tenable notes that CVE-2020-1337 is a patch bypass for CVE-2020-1048, another Windows Print Spooler vulnerability that was patched in May 2020. Narang said researchers found that the patch for CVE-2020-1048 was incomplete and presented their findings for CVE-2020-1337 at the Black Hat security conference earlier this month. More information on CVE-2020-1337, including a video demonstration of a proof-of-concept exploit, is available here.

Adobe has graciously given us another month’s respite from patching Flash Player flaws, but it did release critical security updates for its Acrobat and PDF Reader products. More information on those updates is available here.

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 less likely to pull your hair out 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.

And as ever, 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.

Patch Tuesday, November 2019 Edition

Microsoft today released updates to plug security holes in its software, including patches to fix at least 74 weaknesses in various flavors of Windows and programs that run on top of it. The November updates include patches for a zero-day flaw in Internet Explorer that is currently being exploited in the wild, as well as a sneaky bug in certain versions of Office for Mac that bypasses security protections and was detailed publicly prior to today’s patches.

More than a dozen of the flaws tackled in this month’s release are rated “critical,” meaning they involve weaknesses that could be exploited to install malware without any action on the part of the user, except for perhaps browsing to a hacked or malicious Web site or opening a booby-trapped file attachment.

Perhaps the most concerning of those critical holes is a zero-day flaw in Internet Exploder Explorer (CVE-2019-1429) that has already seen active exploitation. Today’s updates also address two other critical vulnerabilities in the same Windows component that handles various scripting languages.

Microsoft also fixed a flaw in Microsoft Office for Mac (CVE-2019-1457) that could allow attackers to bypass security protections in some versions of the program.

Macros are bits of computer code that can be embedded into Office files, and malicious macros are frequently used by malware purveyors to compromise Windows systems. Usually, this takes the form of a prompt urging the user to “enable macros” once they’ve opened a booby-trapped Office document delivered via email. Thus, Office has a feature called “disable all macros without notification.”

But Microsoft says all versions of Office still support an older type of macros that do not respect this setting, and can be used as a vector for pushing malwareWill Dormann of the CERT/CC has reported that Office 2016 and 2019 for Mac will fail to prompt the user before executing these older macro types if the “Disable all macros without notification” setting is used.

Other Windows applications or components receiving patches for critical flaws today include Microsoft Exchange and Windows Media Player. In addition, Microsoft also patched nine vulnerabilities — five of them critical — in the Windows Hyper-V, an add-on to the Windows Server OS (and Windows 10 Pro) that allows users to create and run virtual machines (other “guest” operating systems) from within Windows.

Although Adobe typically issues patches for its Flash Player browser component on Patch Tuesday, this is the second month in a row that Adobe has not released any security updates for Flash. However, Adobe today did push security fixes for a variety of its creative software suites, including Animate, Illustrator, Media Encoder and Bridge. Also, I neglected to note last month that Adobe released a critical update for Acrobat/Reader that addressed at least 67 bugs, so if you’ve got either of these products installed, please be sure they’re patched and up to date.

Finally, Google recently fixed a zero-day flaw in its Chrome Web browser (CVE-2019-13720). If you use Chrome and see an upward-facing arrow to the right of the address bar, you have an update pending; fully closing and restarting the browser should install any available updates.

Now seems like a good time to remind all you Windows 7 end users that Microsoft will cease shipping security updates after January 2020 (this end-of-life also affects Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2). While businesses and other volume-license purchasers will have the option to pay for further fixes after that point, all other Windows 7 users who want to stick with Windows will need to consider migrating to Windows 10 soon.

Standard heads-up: Windows 10 likes to install patches all in one go and reboot your computer on its own schedule. Microsoft doesn’t make it easy for Windows 10 users to change this setting, but it is possible. For all other Windows OS users, if you’d rather be alerted to new updates when they’re available so you can choose when to install them, there’s a setting for that in Windows Update. To get there, click the Windows key on your keyboard and type “windows update” into the box that pops up.

Keep in mind that while staying up-to-date on Windows patches is a good idea, 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 probably not freaking out when the odd buggy patch causes problems booting the system. So do yourself a favor and backup your files before installing any patches.

As ever, if you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please feel free to leave a comment about it below; there’s a decent chance other readers have experienced the same and may even chime in here with some helpful tips.

Update, Nov. 13, 11:34 a.m.: An earlier version of this story misstated some of the findings from CERT/CC, and misspelled the name of the researcher. The above post has been corrected.