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Microsoft Releases Patches to Fix 20 Security Holes

Microsoft Corp. today issued a dozen software updates to plug at least 20 security holes in its Windows operating system and other software, including fixes for a number of vulnerabilities in Office that hackers are currently exploiting to hijack vulnerable PCs. Windows users can download the free updates by visiting Microsoft Update or by enabling automatic updates.

The company labeled half of the vulnerabilities "critical," its most severe rating. Critical security holes are those that bad guys could exploit to seize control over vulnerable machines without any action on the part of the user, or those that could be exploited just by convincing a user to click on a link in an e-mail, or visit a particular Web page.

Today's patch bundle addresses a total of eight separate vulnerabilities in different versions of Office, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, six of which are already being exploited by hackers, according to Microsoft. As usual, those most in danger are Office 2000 users. These users cannot download the updates through the usual Windows/Microsoft update site. Instead, Office 2000 users must scan their machine at Microsoft's Office Update site and apply any outstanding fixes listed there.

Regardless of which version of Office you are using (or whether you are running Office at all), be extremely careful about opening attachments in e-mails that you were not expecting -- even if they appear to come from someone you know.

Microsoft also issued updates to correct four flaws in most versions of its Internet Explorer Web browser, all of which earned a "critical" rating. Worse yet, instructions detailing how to exploit two of these IE flaws have already been posted online (one set of instructions dates back to Oct. 2006).

Another patch fixes a critical flaw in the way that Microsoft's security software scans portable document format files (.PDF -- Adobe Acrobat documents, for example) for malicious software. According to Microsoft, this bug affects Windows Live OneCare, Microsoft Antigen, Windows Defender, Windows Defender in Windows Vista, Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Forefront Security for SharePoint.

Interestingly, Microsoft said it also is investigating new public reports of a potential vulnerability in both Windows Mobile Internet Explorer and Windows Mobile Pictures and Video -- applications built into most Microsoft Smartphone and PocketPC mobile phones.

There were other patches released today. Home users should not delay in applying these updates: Last month, hackers infiltrated the official Web site of Dolphins Stadium -- the site of Superbowl XLI -- and seeded it with a Trojan horse program that installed a password stealing program on Windows machines if users browsed to the site without having applied a patch that Microsoft issued just two weeks prior.

By Brian Krebs  |  February 13, 2007; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  Latest Warnings , New Patches , Safety Tips  
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