Category Archives: Microsoft

October 2012 Patch Tuesday Advance Notice

Another month, another batch of updates from Microsoft. On October 9, starting at about 10 am PDT, Microsoft will release patches that address a total of twenty vulnerabilities in Windows and Office. Seven security bulletins will cover the defects being patched, one of which is a critical vulnerability in Word.

Also included in the upcoming updates will be Microsoft Security Advisory (2661254): Update For Minimum Certificate Key Length. This update is the final step in a series of actions taken by Microsoft to improve Internet-based security for its products. This update will force RSA-encrypted communications in Internet Explorer and Outlook to use keys that are 1024 bits in length or greater. If you access secure web sites with Internet Explorer or use encrypted email with Outlook, this update may cause those services to stop working. For further details, see:

Google Apps dropping support for Internet Explorer 8

Google recently announced that it will be dropping support for version 8 and earlier of Internet Explorer in Google Apps.

The change will occur shortly after the release of Internet Explorer 10, on November 15, 2012.

Internet Explorer 8 is the most recent version of the web browser that runs on Windows XP, so anyone who uses Internet Explorer on Windows XP to access Google Apps will need to switch to a different web browser, or upgrade to Windows 7 or 8 after November 15.

Active attacks targeting Internet Explorer

Update 2012Sep22: As promised by Microsoft, patches for Internet Explorer versions 9 and earlier were made available yesterday. The patches are available through regular update channels, including Windows Update and Microsoft Update. Security Bulletin MS12-063 has all the details, including links for downloading the updates separately.

Update 2012Sep21: A fix for this issue, promised earlier this week by Microsoft, was announced yesterday. Anyone using Internet Explorer for web browsing is strongly encouraged to install the fix immediately. A proper (i.e. fully tested) patch will be available from Microsoft later today.

Update 2012Sep19: Another bulletin from Microsoft promises an ‘out of cycle’ fix for this issue in the next few days. Meanwhile, the list of sites known to contain the exploit code is growing.

Update 2012Sep18: Microsoft has issued a security bulletin that goes into some detail about this issue and suggests workarounds. Apparently you can install the ‘Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit’, or configure Internet Explorer to either prompt before running ActiveX scripts or prevent them from running altogether.

A newly-discovered vulnerability in most versions of Internet Explorer is being exploited in current, ongoing attacks.

Anyone using IE 6, 7, 8 or 9 on Windows XP, Vista or 7 is potentially at risk. To become infected, a user need only visit a web site that contains the exploit code. Typically, trojan malware is then installed silently on the user’s computer. The computer is then open to further attacks as well as remote control by the perpetrators.

Internet Explorer 10 is not affected.

The exploit code may be placed on a web site without the knowledge of the site owner, if the site is not secure.

This vulnerability and the associated attacks are serious enough to warrant extreme caution when using Internet Explorer. Some experts are recommending discontinuing the use of Internet Explorer until a fix becomes available.

Microsoft has issued a bulletin that provides additional details.

Windows 8 Internet Explorer shipping with vulnerable Flash

Update 2012Sep22: A Security Advisory published yesterday by Microsoft announced the availability of a patch for Flash in Internet Explorer 10. A related post on the Microsoft Security Response Center blog explains how security updates for Flash in Internet Explorer will be handled in the future. Anyone using Internet Explorer 10 or Windows 8 should install the Flash update as soon as possible.

Update 2012Sep11: Given the negative reaction to Microsoft’s previous announcement that recent Flash vulnerabilities would not be fixed in Internet Explorer 10 until after Windows 8 is released, today’s announcement is perhaps not much of a surprise. Microsoft is now saying that the Flash holes in IE10 will be plugged much sooner than originally announced. However, there will still be an easily-exploited delay between the launch of Windows 8 and the point at which all Windows 8 systems are patched.

Recently, Google switched to an integrated version of Flash in the Chrome web browser. They did this to simplify the update process: Chrome users no longer have to worry about keeping their browser’s Flash plugin up to date.

Microsoft has apparently done something similar with Internet Explorer 10, which is included with Windows 8. Unfortunately, the recent Flash vulnerabilities were not addressed in Internet Explorer 10 when Windows 8 was finalized recently. Which means Windows 8 has at least two very serious security holes in its integrated web browser, out of the box.

Microsoft says that the Flash vulnerabilities in Windows 8’s IE10 will be fixed during the regular patch cycle, but it’s not known exactly when the updates will appear.

Nefarious hackers are no doubt preparing for a surge of new Windows 8 systems to appear on the Internet, all with these rather large holes, ready to exploit.

If you are using Windows 8 or plan to start using it soon, your options are:

  • Stop using Internet Explorer. This isn’t really a viable option, since the browser is integrated into the O/S.
  • Disable Flash in Internet Explorer 10, assuming this is even possible.
  • Avoid all Flash content while using Internet Explorer 10. This is increasingly difficult to accomplish, given the prevalence of Flash content on the web.

Windows 8 annoyance lists start appearing

Since I’ve yet to bite the bullet and download an evaluation copy of Windows 8, I’m relegated to passing along reviews from elsewhere. Luckily, there’s no shortage of those.

First up is an article from laptopmag.com, entitled ‘8 Worst Windows 8 Annoyances and How to Fix Them‘. Here are the highlights:

  • No more Start menu. Why, Microsoft? Why not make it optional? Then, if I’m using a tablet, I’ll turn on the new UI; and otherwise leave it off.
  • Desktop apps (basically, all the software you currently run on Windows) are harder to find, since they are all jammed behind one pane of the new UI.
  • Shutting down the computer involves more steps and it’s not immediately obvious what those steps are.
  • The new Windows Mail app only supports IMAP, not POP. Why, Microsoft? IMAP certainly has its uses, but for most users, POP more closely matches what they really want, and how they conceptualize email. IMAP can be very confusing for users.
  • Even Windows 8 itself reverts to ‘desktop mode’ for many activities. So what’s the point of the new UI? Is it just there to confuse people and make everything take longer? The constant transitions between the new UI and the desktop are jarring for users.

Next, a PCGamesN contributor has an entertaining rant on why he’s uninstalling Windows 8. Just as I plan to do soon, this poor sod forced himself to install Windows 8 in order to evaluate it. Highlights:

  • The new UI, and the way it’s forced on the user only to revert to the desktop for many operations, is a disaster.
  • The core apps – the ones Microsoft expects you to use every day – are awful. This includes the the email client, the messaging client, the calendar, the media player and the Metro version of Internet Explorer (there’s a desktop IE as well).

Fun stuff! Thanks Microsoft, for giving bloggers such a rich source of disgust.

As predicted, Windows XP holdouts likely to upgrade to Windows 7

I’ve been saying for a while that corporate/business/enterprise customers are going to avoid Windows 8. IT departments have no interest in helping countless users re-learn Windows basics because of an ill-conceived and unavoidable user interface decision by Microsoft.

Enterprise IT folks are not interested in performing Windows upgrades on thousands of PCs unless there is a good reason to do so. When Microsoft stops developing security patches for Windows XP in April 2014, that will be a good reason to upgrade machines still running XP. Thankfully, there are alternatives to Windows 8.

After a lot of early problems with networking, compatibility and drivers with Windows 7, that O/S has emerged as the next go-to O/S for Windows-based PCs. Moving a user from Windows XP to Windows 7 will not involve a lot of re-training, drivers have matured, and software compatibility issues have mostly been resolved. Windows 7 sales are likely to exceed Windows 8 sales in the coming months, no matter what Microsoft does to encourage people to skip Windows 7.

Apparently, the attendees of a recent TechMentor conference held at Microsoft’s headquarters agree. According to those folks, Windows 7 is going to be the next Windows XP, with 7 assuming the mantle of ‘most solid and reliable Windows O/S’ for enterprise users.

My own plans are to evaluate Windows 8 on a test PC, but switch my Windows XP machines to Linux if possible, and Windows 7 if not. Windows 8 has a lot to prove before I will even consider using it on any of my main PCs.