Category Archives: Security

aka infosec

Adobe Reader update

Adobe logoLast week Adobe released new versions of its Acrobat and Reader products, to address fourteen security vulnerabilities in earlier versions.

In the Adobe product lineup, Acrobat is the commercial PDF builder, while Reader is the free PDF viewer. At one time you pretty much needed to have Reader installed to view PDF files, but these days PDF viewer functionality is increasingly built into operating systems and web browsers.

The new version of Reader — officially referred to as Acrobat Reader DC — is 2020.013.20064. Details are available in the related Adobe Security Bulletin.

All of Adobe’s Acrobat/Reader products update themselves by default, and there’s apparently no simple way to disable that feature. Still, if you have Reader installed, and you use it to view PDF files obtained from email or the web, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s up to date.

To check for updates, start Reader and navigate its menu to Help > Check for Updates... If there’s a newer version available, you’ll be prompted to install it.

Patch Tuesday for November 2020

This month’s pile-o-patches from Microsoft includes updates for Flash in Microsoft browsers, .NET, Exchange Server, Office (2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019), Sharepoint, Windows (7, 8.1, and 10), Windows Server (2008, 2012, 2016, and 2019), Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code, Internet Explorer 11, Edge, and Teams.

Analysis of the new (but not improved) Security Update Guide for November shows that there are at least 102 bulletins (but as many as 118, depending on what’s counted), each with an associated set of updates. As many as one hundred and eighty-five security vulnerabilities are addressed.

Dammit, Microsoft

Microsoft has once again changed the way security bulletins and updates are documented. As a result, it’s now even more difficult to find certain details about individual updates, and more difficult to ascertain just how many updates were made available for a given Patch Tuesday. It seems like Microsoft wants us to give up trying to get a handle on these things, and just install all available updates. Some people have turned to non-Microsoft resources for update information, such as the Patch Tuesday Dashboard, which is useful, but the numbers there don’t match mine, so who knows.

Getting the updates

Most Windows 10 users will get the relevant updates installed automatically over the next couple of days, although more recent versions of Windows 10 do allow updates to be delayed.

Windows 8.1 computers that have automatic updates enabled will also get those updates soon. Otherwise, you’ll need to head to the Windows Control Panel to run Windows Update.

Windows 7 users are still pretty much out of luck.

Java Version 8 Update 271

Oracle’s quarterly Critical Patch Update Advisory for October 2020, published on October 20, includes a list of eight vulnerabilities affecting Java 8u261, 7u271, and older versions.

Security risks arising from the use of older versions of Java are not as scary as they once were, since most current web browsers no longer support Java. The notable exception is Internet Explorer 11, which still supports the Java NPAPI plugin. Still, it’s best to keep Java up to date if it’s installed.

The easiest way to both check whether you have Java installed and see which version you’re running is to go to the Windows Control Panel. On Windows 7 and earlier, the Control Panel is accessible via the Start menu. On Windows 8.1 and 10, Microsoft annoyingly hid the Control Panel, but you can find it by clicking the start button and entering the text “control”. In the list of search results, you should see “Control Panel”. Click that to get to the Control Panel.

If Java is installed, you’ll see its Control Panel entry: Java (32-bit). Once you’ve clicked that, you’ll see the multi-tab Java applet. To see which version is installed, go to the Java tab and click View... The Product column shows the version. If it shows as “1.8.0_271“, that means you’re running Java 8 Update 271. Click Cancel to close that dialog.

To update Java, go to the Update tab and click the Update Now button. Follow the prompts to download and install the latest applicable version.

Alternatively, you can visit the main Java download page and install Java from there.

Flash update and upcoming retirement

Last week, on Patch Tuesday, Adobe released a new version of Flash that addresses a single critical vulnerability in previous versions.

The security bulletin for Flash 32.0.0.445 provides some additional context.

Anyone still using Flash, and in particular if Flash is enabled in Internet Explorer 11, Edge, or Google Chrome, should install the new version.

The easiest way to obtain the latest version of Flash is to go to the Get Flash page on the Adobe web site.

You’ll probably notice a warning at the top of the Get Flash page: “Important Reminder: Flash Player’s end of life is December 31st, 2020. Please see the Flash Player EOL Information page for more details.” That’s right, Flash is nearing the end of its troubled life.

Adobe plans to retire Flash at the end of 2020. After that, Adobe will no longer update or distribute Flash. They won’t fix security vulnerabilities, and you won’t be able to download it from Adobe’s web site. Adobe recommends removing Flash from all systems by the end of 2020.

Flash will live on, of course. But leaving Flash installed and enabled in browsers will become increasingly risky, as any new vulnerabilities will not be fixed by Adobe. If you must continute to use Flash for work-related activity, try to use it only as needed, and never to view content obtained from unverified Internet sources. Use a separate browser just for viewing Flash content if possible.

Patch Tuesday for October 2020

It’s time for another round of updates for your Windows computers. Earlier today Microsoft published fifty-eight bulletins, with associated updates, addressing eighty vulnerabilities in Flash, .NET, Office (2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019), SharePoint, Visual Studio, and Windows (7, 8.1, 10, and Server). Ten of the vulnerabilities are flagged as having Critical severity.

Get the full details directly from the source: Microsoft’s Security Update Guide.

Interestingly, there are no updates for any version of Internet Explorer this time around. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.

What you need to do

Windows 10

Unless you’re running one of the more recent major releases of Windows 10, and you’ve configured it to delay updates, you’re going to get the new updates within the next day or so.

If your version of Windows 10 has settings that allow you to delay updates, I strongly recommend that you use them. Given Microsoft’s recent track record with updates, which includes rushing out fixes for a sadly long series of problematic updates, it seems like the smart choice.

Windows 8.1

It’s been a while since Microsoft broke Windows 8.1 with a bad update, but if you’re at all wary about these things (as am I), you should make sure Windows Update is not configured to install updates automatically, then wait a few days before installing them manually with Windows Update.

The more adventurous among you may choose to install the new updates right away via Windows Update, or even (shudder) configure Windows Update to do it all automatically.

Windows 7

If the organization you work for has paid for extended updates, your Windows 7 computer will get any applicable updates, but your IT folks probably do that for you anyway.

The rest of the world’s Windows 7 users can only wonder how much less secure their computers are without the new updates.

Patch Tuesday for September 2020

This month’s pile from Microsoft includes fixes for vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer (9 and 11), both variants of Edge (Chromium and EdgeHTML), Office (2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019), SharePoint, Visual Studio, Windows (7, 8.1, and 10), and Windows Server (2008, 2012, 2016, 2019).

There are fifty-three security bulletins in all, and fifty-three associated updates. The updates includes fixes for one hundred and twenty vulnerabilities, twenty-one of which have been flagged as having critical severity. All of the critical vulnerabilities involve potential remote code execution.

As usual, the details are available in Microsoft’s Security Update Guide.

You can still get the Windows 7 updates legitimately, but only if you subscribe to Microsoft’s rather expensive Extended Security Updates program.

Windows 10 systems will update themselves automatically, although with newer versions, you have some control over when that happens. With Windows 10, most updates are going to get installed at some point. But delaying them can allow you to avoid updates that cause problems, since Microsoft usually issues fixes for the updates shortly after problems are discovered. But doing that potentially leaves your computer vulnerable in the interim. It’s your call. Adjust the update settings by going to Settings > Update & Security > Advanced options.

For Windows 8.1 users, it’s all about Windows Update. If you’ve configured it to install updates automatically, you’re basically in the same boat as Windows 10 users. Otherwise, locate Windows Update in the Control Panel, and click the Check for updates button.

Canada Revenue Agency hacked; shuts down online services

Canadians: if you’ve tried to access your CRA accounts recently, you probably noticed that you can no longer log in. That’s because normal access has been disabled while the CRA works to undo the damage caused by two recent attacks on their services.

The CRA systems were penetrated by persons unknown over the past two weeks. According to the CRA, the breaches have been contained, but the My Account, My Business Account and Represent a Client services have been disabled as a precaution.

Several thousand user accounts have been compromised. Starting in early August, unusual and unauthorized access to accounts was noticed by the account holders and reported to the CRA. In some cases, email, banking, and other account details were changed by the attackers. Fraudulent CERB payments were also issued.

Access to the compromised accounts was apparently gained via ‘credential stuffing’, which is based on the sadly-still-true fact that many people continue to use specific passwords on multiple systems. To be clear: if nobody ever did that, this type of attack would never be successful.

“Of the roughly 12 million active GCKey accounts in Canada, the passwords and usernames of 9,041 users were acquired fraudulently and used to try and access government services, a third of which accessed such services and are being further examined for suspicious activity,” according to a statement from the CRA.

The CRA is in the process of alerting people whose accounts were compromised.

Adobe Reader security fixes

Adobe logoEarlier this week Adobe released new versions of its Acrobat/Reader product line, to fix a series of security vulnerabilities in earlier versions.

There are at least eight variants of Adobe Acrobat and its free counterpart, Reader, which can be confusing. Mitigating this potential confusion is the fact that the huge majority of people who have one of these products installed are using the free Acrobat Reader DC.

The release notes associated with this set of updates reveals that the new versions address at least twenty-six security vulnerabilities in earlier versions. Many of the vulnerabilities are flagged as Critical. The updated version of Acrobat Reader DC is 2020.012.20041.

With default settings, recent versions of Reader will update themselves, on a schedule determined by Adobe, within a few days of a new version’s release. Although it’s possible to override this default behaviour, doing so requires installation of an additional tool or editing the Windows registry directly.

If you’d like to check the version of Reader you’re using, navigate Reader’s menu to Help > About Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. To check for updates and install the latest version, go to Help > Check For Updates...

Patch Tuesday for August 2020

If you run Windows 10 and are curious about the updates Microsoft will be jamming down your throat in the next few days; if you run Windows 7 and want to know what you’re missing out on by not being rich enough to afford Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates program; or if you’re running Windows 8.1 and want to know a bit more about the updates you’re about to install, read on.

Analysis of Microsoft’s comprehensive — yet still oddly difficult to navigate — Security Update Guide for this month reveals that there are sixty-five distinct updates and associated bulletins. Actually, since Microsoft is now calling these things ‘articles’, I’ll do the same. So there are sixty-five articles with associated updates, many of which are packaged into bundles: one with all the month’s updates, and one with only security-related updates.

The updates address a total of one hundred and twenty vulnerabilities in the usual lineup of Microsoft software: Windows (10, 8.1, and 7), Office (2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019), Internet Explorer 9 and 11, Edge (the one built on Chromium), .NET, SharePoint, and Visual Studio.

As is usual these days, Windows 10 updates are installed at Microsoft’s whim, Windows 7 updates are out of reach for most folks, and Windows 8.1 updates are installed via Windows Update in the Control Panel.

Thunderbird 78.0

Earlier this month, Mozilla released a new version of its free — and still excellent — email client: Thunderbird 78.0.

Notable changes in Thunderbird 78.0

A total of fourteen security vulnerabilities are addressed in Thunderbird 78.0. That means it’s a good idea to install the new version as soon as possible; email clients are a popular attack vector for malware.

  • The compose window has been reworked subtly, to improve usability.
  • The recipient address fields (To, Cc, and Bcc) have been changed so that addresses are parsed into ‘pills’, and take less space.
  • The account setup screens have been changed to make them easier to understand.
  • The mail folder icons have been updated and can now be assigned custom colours.
  • On Windows, Thunderbird can now be minimized to the tray (aka the notification area) at the end of the task bar.
  • There’s now a global search box on the main window’s title bar. The display of global search results has been improved.

The release notes and What’s New page for Thunderbird 78.0 describe all the changes in the new version.

Getting Thunderbird 78.0

The new version is not yet available through the built-in updater, but it can be freely downloaded and installed from its main download page. If you’re already using Thunderbird and want to upgrade to 78.0, you can install it from the main download page and it will update your current version, leaving all your settings intact.

Mozilla released Thunderbird 78.0.1 a few days after 78.0. The new version addresses a few problems introduced by 78.0. That’s the version you’ll get if you go to the main Thunderbird download page.