Category Archives: Microsoft

Patch Tuesday for August 2018

It’s update time again.

Analysis of Microsoft’s Security Update Guide shows that this month there are seventy updates for Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, .NET, Edge, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Visual Studio. A total of sixty security bugs are addressed, twenty of which are categorized as Critical.

Adobe, meanhwile, has released new versions of Flash and Acrobat Reader. Flash 30.0.0.154 includes fixes for five security issues, all of which are ranked as Important. Acrobat Reader 2018.011.20058 addresses two Critical security vulnerabilities.

Remember, folks: although updating software is perhaps not the most exciting thing you’ll do today, it’s entirely worthwhile, as it limits the damage that can be done by any stray malware that may find itself on your computer… from that attachment you opened without thinking, or that web site you visited when you accidentally clicked that link.

Microsoft finally making Windows 10 updates less disruptive

One of Windows 10’s most frustrating features is the way it installs updates. Unless you’re using an enterprise version, updates are almost completely out of your control. You can’t prevent them from installing, and there’s very little you can do to control when they install, or when your computer restarts to complate installation.

While developing Windows 10, Microsoft somehow failed to understand that downloading, installing, and rebooting for updates automatically at potentially inconvenient times might be annoying to users.

The good news is that Microsoft is finally going to do something about this. What did it take to get Microsoft to look at the problem? A steady stream of customer complaints, starting immediately after Windows 10 was released.

The bad news is that you still won’t have any real control over when updates happen. Instead, Microsoft is planning to improve Windows 10’s ability to detect that a computer is in use before it automatically reboots. This is from the recent post Announcing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17723 and Build 18204:

“We trained a predictive model that can accurately predict when the right time to restart the device is. Meaning, that we will not only check if you are currently using your device before we restart, but we will also try to predict if you had just left the device to grab a cup of coffee and return shortly after.”

It’s too early to know how well this will work in practise, but at least it’s a (small) step in the right direction.

Patch Tuesday for July 2018

Adobe and Microsoft have issued their monthly updates for July, so even if you’d rather be doing anything else, you should be patching your computers.

We’ll start with Microsoft. As usual, this month’s Security Update Release bulletin serves as little more than a link to the Security Update Guide (SUG), Microsoft’s labyrinthine replacement for the individual bulletins we used to get.

In my experience, the SUG is much easier to digest in the form of a spreadsheet, so the first thing I do there is click the small Download link at the right edge of the page, to the right of the Security Updates heading. If you have Excel — or something compatible — installed, you should be able to open it directly.

Once the spreadsheet is loaded, I recommend enabling the Filter option. In Excel 2007, that setting is in the Sort & Filter section of the Data ribbon (toolbar). This makes every column heading a drop-down list, which allow you to select a particular product or platform, and hide everything else.

Analysis of this month’s updates from the SUG spreadsheet shows that there are sixty-two distinct updates, addressing fifty-three security vulnerabilities in Flash, Internet Explorer, SharePoint, Visual Studio, Edge, Office applications, .NET, and all supported versions of Windows. Seventeen of the updates are flagged as Critical.

As for Adobe, there are updates for Flash (version 30.0.0.134) and Acrobat Reader DC (version 2018.011.20055). The Flash update fixes two vulnerabilities, one of which is Critical. The Acrobat Reader DC update includes fixes for over one hundred security bugs.

Patch Tuesday for June 2018

The June 2018 Security Update Release bulletin on Microsoft’s TechNet blog is almost devoid of useful information, but if you click the link to the Security Update Guide, then click the big Go To Security Update Guide button, you’ll see a link to the release notes for this month’s updates.

According to the release notes, this month’s updates affect Internet Explorer, Edge, Windows, Office, Office Services and Web Apps, Flash embedded in IE and Edge, and ChakraCore. Analysis of the information in the SUG reveals that there are forty updates, fixing fifty-one separate vulnerabilities. Eleven of the vulnerabilties are flagged as Critical.

More CPU flaws discovered

Microsoft and Google just announced a new CPU speculative execution flaw that’s similar to Spectre and Meltdown: Speculative Store Bypass.

As with Spectre and Meltdown, almost all CPU chips made in the last ten years are affected by this issue.

The Verge: Google and Microsoft disclose new CPU flaw, and the fix can slow machines down.

Bruce Schneier thinks there are more speculative execution flaws coming. And he’s probably right.

Spectre update

Intel has decided not to produce Spectre microcode updates for some of the oldest of their affected CPUs, leaving most Core 2 chips without any hope of a Spectre fix. As for first generation CPUs, some will get updates, and some will not. Microcode updates for all CPUs from generation 2 through generation 8 have already been released.

Not sure whether your computer is affected by Spectre? If you’re running Windows, Gibson Research’s free InSpectre tool will tell you what you need to know. Looking for a Spectre BIOS update for your computer? PCWorld’s guide is a good starting point.

Intel has produced new microcode for most Spectre-affected CPUs, but some manufacturers have yet to provide corresponding BIOS updates for all affected motherboards. They may have decided not to bother developing updates for older motherboards. That’s a potential problem for millions of computers running older CPUs that are new enough to be vulnerable to Spectre. If the manufacturer hasn’t released a BIOS update with Spectre fixes for your motherboard, consider contacting them to find out when that’s going to happen.

Update 2018May24: I contacted Asus about a particular desktop PC I happen to own, and was told that “details on whether or not there will be a Spectre BIOS update for the <model> is [sic] currently not available.” That doesn’t sound very encouraging. It feels like they’re waiting to see how many complaints they get before committing resources to developing patches.

Patch Tuesday for May 2018

Spring has sprung, and with it, a load of updates from Microsoft and Adobe.

This month from Microsoft: sixty-seven updates, fixing sixty-nine security vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Office, Edge, .NET, Flash, and various development tools. Seventeen of the vulnerabilities addressed are flagged as Critical and can lead to remote code execution.

The details are as usual buried in Microsoft’s Security Update Guide. You may find it easier to examine that information in spreadsheet form, which you can obtain by clicking little Download link partway down the page on the right. Just above that there’s a link to the release notes for this month’s updates, but don’t expect much useful information there.

Update 2018May11: If you were looking for something to motivate your patching endeavours, consider this: two of the vulnerabilities addressed in this month’s updates are being actively exploited on the web.

Adobe logoAs you might have guessed from Microsoft’s Flash updates, Adobe released a new version of Flash today. Flash 29.0.0.171 addresses a single critical vulnerability in previous versions. You can find release notes for Flash 29 on the Adobe web site.

You can get Flash from Windows Update if you run a Microsoft browser, via Chrome’s internal updater, or from the official Flash download page. If you use the Flash download page, make sure to disable any optional installs, as they are generally not useful.

Windows 10 April 2018 Update

Another big update for Windows 10 is scheduled to start rolling out to all Windows 10 computers on May 8. Microsoft is calling this one the Windows 10 April 2018 Update.

As with all Windows 10 updates, there’s no way to avoid it, and the only way to control when the update lands on your computer is to manually check for updates using Windows Update. Doing that any time after April 30 should show the April update and let you install it.

What’s new in the April 2018 update

Timeline is a new feature that allows you to see what you were doing on your computer on a specific date.

Nearby Sharing provides a new mechanism for quickly and easily sharing documents with nearby users. It uses Bluetooth and WiFi, depending on what’s available.

Focus Assist allows for easier control over Windows features that are potentially distracting, such as sounds, visual notifications and other alerts.

Improvements to Edge include several we’ve seen in other browsers for a while: tab audio muting, form autofill, clutter-free printing, full-screen reading mode, grammar tools, colour/theme improvements, and better compatibility with mobile platforms.

Windows Ink gets a few enhancements with this update, as do Windows Mixed Reality, Windows Hello, Microsoft Photos, Mixed Reality Viewer, Paint 3D, Cortana, Dictation, My People, and the Game Bar.

The once-discarded, then revived Start menu sees some improvement in the way pinning works.

HDR video support in Windows HD Color is expanded, as is support for the Touch Keyboard and Handwriting.

The April 2018 update also includes changes to:

  • Windows accessibility features
  • Windows Store
  • Security

Update 2018May07: Microsoft continues to have quality issues with Windows 10 updates. The April 2018 Update was postponed earlier in April when a serious Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) problem was discovered. Now, Google Chrome users are reporting problems using the browser after installing the Windows 10 April 2018 update. Microsoft is working on a fix that should become available with other Patch Tuesday updates on May 8.

Patch Tuesday for April 2018

Microsoft’s contribution to our monthly headache starts with a post on the TechNet MSRC blog: April 2018 security update release. This brief page consists of the same boilerplate we get every month, and provides no details at all. We’re informed that “information about this month’s security updates can be found in the Security Update Guide” but there isn’t even a link to the SUG.

Analysis of the SUG for this month’s Microsoft updates shows that there are sixty updates, addressing sixty-eight vulnerabilities in Flash, Excel, Word, and other Office components, Internet Explorer, Edge, Windows, and Defender. Twenty-three of the vulnerabilities are flagged as Critical.

If your Windows computer is not configured for automatic updates, you’ll need to use Windows Update in the Control Panel to install them.


Adobe’s offering for this month’s patching fun is a new version of Flash Player: 29.0.0.140 (APSB18-08). Six security vulnerabilities — three flagged as Critical — are fixed in the new version.

If you’re using a web browser with Flash enabled, you should install Flash 29.0.0.140 as soon as possible. The embedded Flash used in Internet Explorer 11 and Edge on newer versions of Windows will get the new version via Windows Update. Chrome’s embedded Flash will be updated via Chrome’s automatic update system. To update the desktop version of Flash, visit the About Flash page.

Microsoft updates for March

I count forty-seven separate bulletins in this month’s batch of updates, which means there are roughly that same number of updates. Over seventy security vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge, Office, and .NET are addressed in the updates. There’s a Flash update in there as well, for Edge and recent versions of Internet Explorer.

This month we also get more fixes for Spectre and Meltdown, including firmware updates for somewhat older processors (Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Coffee Lake). There’s still not much available for processors that are more than a few years old.

While Microsoft continues to push people to enable automatic updates, the more cautious among us (including myself) prefer to control what is updated and when. Windows 10 users still have effectively no control over Windows updates.

You can extract additional details for this month’s updates from Microsoft’s Security Update Guide.

February updates from Microsoft

Earlier today, Microsoft released forty-two updates to address fifty-four vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge, Flash, and Office software. Fourteen of the vulnerabilities are flagged as critical, and have the potential to be used for remote code execution.

This information was extracted from Microsoft’s Security Update Guide, the rather opaque reservoir into which Microsoft now dumps its update information. Of course Microsoft would be happier if we all just enabled auto-updates, and in fact the monthly patch bulletins are now little more than a link to the SUG and a recommendation to enable auto-updates.