Microsoft today issued its final batch of security updates for Windows PCs in 2020, ending the year with a relatively light patch load. Nine of the 58 security vulnerabilities addressed this month earned Microsoft’s most-dire “critical” label, meaning they can be abused by malware or miscreants to seize remote control over PCs without any help from users.
Mercifully, it does not appear that any of the flaws fixed this month are being actively exploited, nor have any them been detailed publicly prior to today.
The critical bits reside in updates for Microsoft Exchange Server, Sharepoint Server, and Windows 10 and Server 2016 systems. Additionally, Microsoft released an advisory on how to minimize the risk from a DNS spoofing weakness in Windows Server 2008 through 2019.
Some of the sub-critical “important” flaws addressed this month also probably deserve prompt patching in enterprise environments, including a trio of updates tackling security issues with Microsoft Office.
“Given the speed with which attackers often weaponize Microsoft Office vulnerabilities, these should be prioritized in patching,” said Allan Liska, senior security architect at Recorded Future. “The vulnerabilities, if exploited, would allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code on a victim’s machine. These vulnerabilities affect Microsoft Excel 2013 through 2019, Microsoft 365 32 and 64 bit versions, Microsoft Office 2019 32 and 64 bit versions, and Microsoft Excel for Mac 2019.”
We also learned this week that Redmond quietly addressed a scary “zero-click” vulnerability in its Microsoft Teams platform that would have let anyone execute code of their choosing just by sending the target a specially-crafted chat message to a Teams users. The bug was cross-platform, meaning it could also have been used to deliver malicious code to people using Teams on non-Windows devices.
Researcher Oskars Vegeris said in a proof-of-concept post to Github that he reported the flaw to Microsoft at the end of August, but that Microsoft didn’t assign the bug a Common Vulnerabilities and Exposure (CVE) rating because it has a policy of not doing so for bugs that can be fixed from Microsoft’s end without user interaction.
According to Vegeris, Microsoft addressed the Teams flaw at the end of October. But he said the bug they fixed was the first of five zero or one-click remote code execution flaws he has found and reported in Teams. Reached via LinkedIn, Vegeris declined to say whether Microsoft has yet addressed the remaining Teams issues.
Separately, Adobe issued security updates for its Prelude, Experience Manager and Lightroom software. There were no security updates for Adobe Flash Player, which is fitting considering Adobe is sunsetting the program at the end of the year. Microsoft is taking steps to remove Flash from its Windows browsers, and Google and Firefox already block Flash by default.
It’s a good idea for Windows users to get in the habit of updating at least once a month, but for regular users (read: not enterprises) it’s usually safe to wait a few days until after the patches are released, so that Microsoft has time to iron out any chinks in the new armor.
But before you update, please make sure you have backed up your system and/or important files. It’s not uncommon for a Windows update package to hose one’s system or prevent it from booting properly, and some updates have been 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.