Category Archives: Patches and updates

Firefox 73.0

There’s another new version of Firefox: 73.0. Despite the major version bump, there are no big changes. However, it’s an important update, because it addresses several security vulnerabilities. There are also fixes for a few long-standing annoyances.

According to the security advisory for Firefox 73.0, six security bugs are addressed in the new version. None of them are flagged as having Critical impact, but they all look nasty.

Firefox’s page zoom feature is very handy for viewing web sites with unfortunate font size choices. It’s not new: Firefox has had this feature for years. What is new is that you can now set a global zoom level, which seems likely to be useful for folks with impaired vision.

To zoom the page you’re looking at, hold down the Ctrl key and move your mouse’s scroll wheel up and down. To change the global zoom level, click Firefox’s menu button, and select Options. In the General section, change the Default Zoom setting.

Firefox now shows web page background images with a border when Windows is configured to use high contrast mode. Previously, background images were disabled in high contrast mode.

Firefox will now only prompt to save login credentials if at least one form element has been changed.

To see which version of Firefox you’re using, navigate its menu to Help > About Firefox. If a newer version is available, you should see a button or link to install the update.

Patch Tuesday for February 2020

Yesterday’s crop of updates includes the usual pile from Microsoft, as well as a few from Adobe, for Flash and Reader.

Analysis of Microsoft’s Security Update Guide for February 2020 reveals that there are thirty-eight updates, addressing one hundred and one security issues in Internet Explorer, Edge (both the old and new versions), Flash embedded in Internet Explorer, Office, and Windows. Thirteeen of the updates have been flagged as Critical.

To install Microsoft updates, go to Windows Update in the Control Panel for older versions of Windows, and in Settings > Update & Security for Windows 10. Alternatively, for Windows 10, you can just wait for the updates to be installed automatically.

Adobe logo

The latest version of Flash, 32.0.0.330, fixes a single security vulnerability in earlier versions.

Update Flash on pre-Windows 10 computers by heading to the Windows Control Panel and running the Flash applet. On the Updates tab, check the version and click the Check Now button. Click the link to the Player Download Center. Make sure to disable any checkboxes for installing additional software, then click the big Install Now button. Follow the prompts. You may have to restart your web browser for the update to finish.

Adobe Reader 2020.006.20034, also released this Patch Tuesday, includes fixes for seventeen security vulnerabilities in earlier versions.

Recent versions of Reader typically update themselves, but you can check your version and force an update by navigating Reader’s menu to Help > Check for Updates...

Chrome 80.0.3987.87

The latest release of Google’s Chrome web browser, announced on February 4, includes fifty-six security fixes. As usual, details on all of the related vulnerabilities will not be released until a majority of users are updated with a fix.

The full change log for Chrome 80.0.3987.87 is a whopper, with over sixteen thousand changes in all. A little light reading for anyone with a few hours to spare. But hey, at this point if you don’t trust Google you probably shouldn’t be using Chrome. In the same way that you shouldn’t be using Windows 10 if you don’t trust Microsoft.

Chrome updates itself on its own mysterious schedule, unless you’ve taken extreme (and continuous) measures to prevent it. You can find out which version you’re running by navigating Chrome’s menu (hidden behind the three-vertical-dots menu button at the top right) to Help > About Google Chrome. If a newer version is available, you should see a button or link to install it.

Microsoft news: the good, the bad, and the spiteful

The Good

Windows 7 support ended earlier this month, and with it any hope of fixing newly-discovered security vulnerabilities. Or did it? Microsoft recently discovered a problem with an update, released in Novemeber 2019, that is causing problems with desktop wallpaper on Windows 7 computers. This isn’t a security issue, but it probably affects thousands of users, and Microsoft has now released a special update that fixes the wallpaper problem. You can get the update via Windows Update on Windows 7 computers.

The Bad

Microsoft’s plans for expanding advertising in Windows 10 continue, albeit very slowly. The latest change is in Windows 10’s default rich text editor, Wordpad. When you run Wordpad, you’ll see an advertisement for Microsoft Office. It’s not much, and many users will never see it, but I’m reminded of the proverbial frog in steadily-warming water.

The Spiteful

Microsoft’s shenanigans with Google show no signs of slowing down. Both companies have engaged in questionable behaviour in trying to promote their software and services. The latest shot from Microsoft is particularly annoying: when Office 365 updates itself — a process that is both frequent and difficult to control — it will look for an installation of Google’s Chrome web browser, and change its default search engine to Bing.

Microsoft has a history of inappropriately reverting settings during updates, which is annoying enough, but this is excessive and downright spiteful, in my opinion. Microsoft, please play out your differences with Google in a way that doesn’t annoy millions of users.

Update 2020Feb11: Microsoft relented, and won’t be switching Windows 10 searches to use Bing during Office 365 updates. I guess they realized that they didn’t need yet another public relations disaster.

Java 8 Update 241 (8u241)

Oracle’s Critical Patch Update Advisory for January 2020 documents twelve security vulnerabilities in Java 8 Update 231 and earlier versions.

Java 8 Update 241 was released to address those vulnerabilities. The release notes page for Java 8 lists notable changes in Java 8 Update 241.

These days the only mainstream web browser that still supports Java is Internet Explorer. If you use Internet Explorer with Java enabled, keeping Java up to date is critical.

But even if you don’t use IE with Java, if Java is installed on your computer, it’s a good idea to keep it up to date. If you’re not sure, look for a Java entry in the Windows Control Panel. Open it and click the About button on the General tab to check the installed version. If it’s not up to date, go to the Update tab and click the Update Now button.

Patch Tuesday for January 2020; end of support for Windows 7

The first Patch Tuesday for 2020 arrives with the long-planned but still inconvenient end of meaningful support for Windows 7.

The venerable Windows 7 still runs on about a quarter of all PCs worldwide. Sticking with Windows 7 was — and continues to be — a conscious decision for many users, made because Windows 8 and 10 were problematic for a variety of reasons.

Microsoft killed support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, but still released updates for that O/S on a couple of occasions when a security vulnerability was so severe that it seemed likely to cause massive problems if unpatched. Microsoft will probably do the same thing for Windows 7, but it’s not a good idea to rely on the goodwill of any large corporation.

So, if you’re running Windows 7, what should you do? You can upgrade to Windows 8.1, which will buy you some time, until its support ends on January 10, 2023. Or you can stop resisting and make the move to Windows 10. Many of the initial problems with — and objections to — Windows 10 have now been addressed, making it somewhat less unpalatable. Microsoft offers additional guidance on the Windows 7 support ended on January 14, 2020 page on the Microsoft support site.

Another sensible option would be to switch to Linux. There are now Linux distributions that feel a lot like Windows, which can ease the transition. The main problem is software. But even if the software you use has no Linux version, you can still run an older version of Windows in a virtual machine on your Linux computer. That’s not too helpful for high-end games, however.

Back to our regularly scheduled updates…

There are thirty-nine updates (and associated bulletins) from Microsoft this month, addressing fifty vulnerabilities in Windows, .NET, Internet Explorer, and Office. Eight of the updates are flagged with Critical severity.

Although there are other ways to obtain the updates, by far the simplest method is to use Windows Update, which is found in the Windows 10 settings, or the Control Panel in older versions.

Update 2020Jan15: One of the vulnerabilities addressed in yesterday’s updates was reported to Microsoft by the NSA. While there’s disagreement about the seriousness of the vulnerability, this is notable in that the NSA previously wasn’t interested in sharing its discovered vulnerabilities. Lack of NSA cooperation led to the WannaCry ransomware nightmare in 2017. Brian Krebs has more.

While it’s generally a good idea to cross your fingers and install all available Microsoft updates, or at least allow them to be installed automatically, some Windows 10 users have grown wary of updates, and configured Windows Updates to be delayed. The actual risk from this vulnerability is mostly for Windows Server 2016 computers that are exposed to the Internet, and Windows 10 computers normally used by people with administrator permissions.

Update 2020Jan17: There’s more useful information about the NSA-reported vulnerability from Ars Technica, and SANS. SANS has created a web page and download that you can use to test your computers for this vulnerability.

Firefox 72.0 and 72.0.1

Security fixes and some welcome changes to notifications and tracking protection were released in the form of Firefox 72.0 on January 7. Firefox 72.0.1 followed the next day, adding one more security fix.

Site notifications are those annoying messages that pop up when you’re browsing web sites, asking — somewhat ironically — whether you want to see notifications for that site. You can still choose to see those, but now Firefox lets you suppress them. To control notifications, navigate Firefox’s Settings to Privacy & Security > Permissions, then click on the Settings button next to Notifications.

Firefox’s already helpful tracking protections were enhanced in version 72 with the addition of fingerprint script blocking. Fingerprinting is a technique used by many companies to better understand you and your online behaviour. While arguably harmless (it’s mostly about providing better ad targeting) fingerprinting is also creepy and a privacy concern. By default, Firefox now blocks scripts that are known to be involved.

Current versions of Firefox default to updating themselves automatically, but you can check for available updates by navigating Firefox’s menu to Help > About Firefox.

Patch Tuesday for December 2019

This month we’ve got a new version of Reader from Adobe, along with the usual heap of updates affecting Microsoft software.

Analysis of Microsoft’s Security Update Guide for December shows that there are thirty-two updates in all, affecting Internet Explorer 9 through 11; Office 365, 2013, 2016, and 2019; Visual Studio; Windows 7, 8.1, and 10; and Windows Server 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2019. Thirty-seven vulnerabilities (CVEs) are addressed, of which seven are flagged as having Critical severity.

The easiest way to install Microsoft updates is via the Windows Update Control Panel (prior to Windows 10) or Settings > Update & Security on Windows 10.

Adobe logoAdobe released updates for several of its software products on Tuesday, but the only one likely to be installed on your computers is the ubiquitous Acrobat Reader DC, Adobe’s free PDF file viewer.

A new version of Acrobat Reader DC, 2019.021.20058, addresses at least twenty-one vulnerabilities in previous versions.

Recent versions of Reader seem to keep themselves updated, but if you use Reader to view PDF files from dubious sources, you should definitely check whether your Reader is up to date. Do that by running it, then choosing Check for Updates... from the Help menu.

About CVEs

I usually refer to security bugs as vulnerabilities. There’s another term that I sometimes use (see above): CVE. That’s an abbreviation for Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures. If you’d like to know more, there’s a helpful post about CVEs over on the SecurityTrails web site. Here’s a quote:

CVE was launched in 1999 by the MITRE Corporation, a nonprofit sponsored by the National Cyber Security Division, or NCSD. When a researcher or a company discovers a new vulnerability or an exposure, they add them to the CVE list so other organizations can leverage this data and protect their systems.

It’s a worthwhile read, even for non-technical folks.

Firefox 71.0

Firefox is my current web browser of choice. I use Google Chrome sparingly, because it’s gotten so bloated and resource-intensive that I can’t leave it running. Perhaps that will change; it wasn’t that long ago that Chrome seemed like the best choice.

I still use Opera and Vivaldi for certain specific activities. And while there’s still no way I can stop using Internet Explorer altogether, I only do so when absolutely necessary. I avoid Edge completely, as it seems hopelessly buggy. There are other alternatives, but for now, Firefox is my main browser.

The latest version of Firefox is 71.0. The new version improves some existing features and adds a few more. Several bugs are fixed, including some security vulnerabilities.

New in Firefox 71.0

  • The integrated password manager, which Mozilla calls Lockwise, now differentiates between logins for different subdomains. If you have one login for subdomain1.domain.com and another for subdomain2.domain.com, they will no longer be conflated.
  • Lockwise will also now display a warning if it finds one of your passwords in a list of potentially compromised passwords.
  • The Enhanced Tracking Protection feature will now show a notification when Firefox blocks cryptomining code. You can see what Firefox is blocking by clicking the small shield icon at the far left of the address bar.
  • You can now view video in a floating window using the Picture-in-picture feature. Look for a small blue button () along the right edge of a video and click it to pop out the PiP window.

Security fixes

Eleven security vulnerabilities are addressed in Firefox 71.0. None of them are ranked as critical, and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that any have been used in actual attacks. Still, it’s best to close those holes before they can be exploited.

How to update Firefox

Check which version of Firefox you’re running by navigating its ‘hamburger’ menu (at the top right) to Help > About Firefox. If you’re not running the latest version, you should see a button that will allow you to upgrade.