Microsoft today released updates to plug nearly 100 security holes in various versions of its Windows operating system and related software, including a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer (IE) that is actively being exploited. Also, Adobe has issued a bevy of security updates for its various products, including Flash Player and Adobe Reader/Acrobat.
A dozen of the vulnerabilities Microsoft patched today are rated “critical,” meaning malware or miscreants could exploit them remotely to gain complete control over an affected system with little to no help from the user.
Last month, Microsoft released an advisory warning that attackers were exploiting a previously unknown flaw in IE. That vulnerability, assigned as CVE-2020-0674, has been patched with this month’s release. It could be used to install malware just by getting a user to browse to a malicious or hacked Web site.
Microsoft once again fixed a critical flaw in the way Windows handles shortcut (.lnk) files (CVE-2020-0729) that affects Windows 8 and 10 systems, as well as Windows Server 2008-2012. Allan Liska, intelligence analyst at Recorded Future, says Microsoft considers exploitation of the vulnerability unlikely, but that a similar vulnerability discovered last year, CVE-2019-1280, was being actively exploited by the Astaroth trojan as recently as September.
Another flaw fixed this month in Microsoft Exchange 2010 through 2019 may merit special attention. The bug could allow attackers to exploit the Exchange Server and execute arbitrary code just by sending a specially crafted email. This vulnerability (CVE-2020-0688) is rated “important” rather than “critical,” but Liska says it seems potentially dangerous, as Microsoft identifies this as a vulnerability that is likely to be exploited.
In addition, Redmond addressed a critical issue (CVE-2020-0618) in the way Microsoft SQL Server versions 2012-2016 handle page requests.
After a several-month respite from patches for its Flash Player browser plug-in, Adobe has once again blessed us with a security update for this program (fixes one critical flaw). Thankfully, Chrome and Firefox both now disable Flash by default, and Chrome and IE/Edge auto-update the program when new security updates are available. Adobe is slated to retire Flash Player later this year.
Other Adobe products for which the company shipped updates today include Experience Manager, Digital Editions, Framemaker and Acrobat/Reader (17 flaws). Security experts at Qualys note that on January 28th, Adobe also issued an out-of-band patch for Magento, labeled as Priority 2.
“While none of the vulnerabilities disclosed in Adobe’s release are known to be Actively Attacked today, all patches should be prioritized on systems with these products installed,” said Qualys’s Jimmy Graham.
Windows 7 users should be aware by now that while a fair number of flaws addressed this month by Microsoft affect Windows 7 systems, this operating system is no longer being supported with security updates (unless you’re an enterprise taking advantage of Microsoft’s paid extended security updates program, which is available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 enterprise users).
If you rely on Windows 7 for day-to-day use, it’s probably time to think about upgrading to something newer. That might be a computer with Windows 10. Or maybe you have always wanted that shiny MacOS computer.
If cost is a primary motivator and the user you have in mind doesn’t do much with the system other than browsing the Web, perhaps a Chromebook or an older machine with a recent version of Linux is the answer (Ubuntu may be easiest for non-Linux natives). Whichever system you choose, it’s important to pick one that fits the owner’s needs and provides security updates on an ongoing basis.
Keep in mind that while staying up-to-date on Windows patches is a must, it’s important to make sure you’re updating only after you’ve backed up your important data and files. A reliable backup means you’re not losing your mind when the odd buggy patch causes problems booting the system.
So do yourself a favor and backup your files before installing any patches. Windows 10 even has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once.
As always, if you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a better-than-even chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with some helpful tips. Also, keep an eye on the AskWoody blog from Woody Leonhard, who keeps a close eye on buggy Microsoft updates each month.