The problem is that this is another problem in a long line of them. Worse still is the fact that it is hitting many with Windows XP Service Pack 2, who will get no help from Microsoft on this one.
Pardon me, but I do think the timing is just a bit too close to the end of support for Windows 2000 and Windows XP SP2. It might not be a direct connection to the Microsoft push to upgrade to Windows 7, but it certainly helps Microsoft’s fortunes when people get worried and think that moving to Windows 7 will bring relief.
The problem is, it is only temporary relief at best, and, at worst, no relief at all, as some of the bugs showing up are a danger in every 32 bit Windows version ever produced.
Showing that this is so, the story in ComputerWorld gives the details for every version of Windows involved –
Microsoft on Friday warned that attackers are exploiting a critical unpatched Windows vulnerability using infected USB flash drives.
The bug admission is the first that affects Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) since Microsoft retired the edition from support, researchers said. When Microsoft does fix the flaw, it will not be providing a patch for machines still running XP SP2.
In a security advisory, Microsoft confirmed what other researchers had been saying for almost a month: Hackers have been exploiting a bug in Windows "shortcut" files, the placeholders typically dropped on the desktop or into the Start menu to represent links to actual files or programs.
Did Microsoft drag its feet on this one simply to push the XP users into an upgrade? I believe that Microsoft has done this many times, and this was only one of the many – it saves them some work, and allows the finger to be pointed in the direction of Windows 7 and income for Microsoft.
"In the wild, this vulnerability has been found operating in conjunction with the Stuxnet malware," Dave Forstrom, a director in Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, said in a post Friday to a company blog. Stuxnet is a clan of malware that includes a Trojan horse that downloads further attack code, including a rootkit that hides evidence of the attack.
Forstrom characterized the threat as "limited, targeted attacks," but the Microsoft group responsible for crafting antivirus signatures said it had tracked 6,000 attempts to infect Windows PCs as of July 15.
On Friday, Siemens alerted customers of its Simatic WinCC management software that attacks using the Windows vulnerability were targeting computers used to manage large-scale industrial control systems used by major manufacturing and utility companies.
The vulnerability was first mentioned on June 17 in an alert issued by VirusBlokAda, a little-known security firm based in Belarus. Other security organizations, including U.K.-based Sophos and SANS Institute’s Internet Storm Center, picked up on the threat Friday. Security blogger Brian Krebs, formerly with the Washington Post, reported on it Thursday.
According to Microsoft, Windows fails to correctly parse shortcut files, identified by the ".lnk" extension. The flaw has been exploited most frequently using USB flash drives. By crafting a malicious .lnk file, hackers can hijack a Windows PC with little user interaction: All that’s necessary is that the user views the contents of the USB drive with a file manager like Windows Explorer.
Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisory with Sophos, called the threat "nasty," and said his tests showed that the exploit works even when AutoRun and AutoPlay — two functions that have previously been used by attackers to commandeer PCs using infected flash drives — are disabled. The rootkit also bypasses all security mechanisms in Windows, including the User Account Control (UAC) prompts in Vista and Windows 7, said Wisniewski in a blog entry Friday.
Attacks can also be launched without using USB drives, Microsoft and Wisniewski both noted. "Affected shortcuts can also be distributed over network shares or remote WebDAV shares," said Microsoft’s advisory.
Since the problem is affecting so many versions of Windows, the fix must be common, and should be distributed to all the users of their products – because the problem has been longstanding, and because the change from the fix for XP SP3, which the company is duty bound to cover, can’t be radically different from a fix for Windows XP SP2, or Windows 2000, for that matter.
It may not be something that the company is legally bound to do, but it is the correct thing to do.