Microsoft's Security Disclosures Come Under Fire

By Ryan Naraine  |  Posted 2006-04-13 Email Print this article Print

A security researcher calls Microsoft's latest patch bulletin "misleading." Is the company deliberately obfuscating details about patched vulnerabilities?

Is Microsoft silently fixing security vulnerabilities and deliberately obfuscating details about patches in its monthly security bulletins?

Matthew Murphy, a security researcher who has worked closely with the MSRC (Microsoft Security Response Center) in the past, is accusing the software maker of "misleading" customers by not clearly spelling out exactly what is being patched in the MS06-015 bulletin released on April 11.

That bulletin, rated "critical," contained patches for a remote code execution hole in Windows Explorer, the embedded file manager that lets Windows users view and manage drives, folders and files.

However, as Murphy found out when scouring through the fine print in the bulletin, the update also addressed what Microsoft described as a "publicly disclosed variation" of a flaw that was reported in May 2004 (CVE-2004-2289.)

In an entry posted to the SecuriTeam blog, Murphy noted that the vulnerability that is documented was privately reported, but the "variation" that was also patched has been publicly known for 700+ days.

"In that case, the issue that is truly the 'variation' is the issue that was discovered and reported privately after the public disclosure," he said.

"[The] information as published is extremely misleading and Microsoft's choice not to document a publicly reported vulnerability is not one that will be for the benefit of its customers' security," Murphy said.

In an interview with eWEEK, Murphy said another "throwaway line" in the bulletin also raised questions about whether a flaw he reported in August 2005 was silently fixed.

The bulletin refers to a "Defense in Depth change" that ensures that consistent prompting occurs in "Internet zone drag and drop scenarios."

That wording, Murphy said, "sounds suspiciously like an attempt to plug the vulnerability I reported publicly in February, which is CVE-2005-3240."

Murphy originally reported that vulnerability to the MSRC in August 2005, but held off on publishing the details for six months. During that time, Murphy and MSRC officials haggled over the severity of the bug and Microsoft made it clear it had no plans to issue a security update to provide a fix, Murphy said.

The company said the fixes would be included in Service Pack 2 of Windows Server 2003 and Service Pack 3 of Windows XP. "Microsoft's internal risk assessment concluded that this issue was not sufficiently serious to be fixed in a security bulletin. This conclusion appears fundamentally inconsistent with the way related issues were handled by Microsoft," Murphy said.

"I disagree with the technical conclusion behind Microsoft's decision and I further find the time frame of delivery and deployment for maintenance releases to be largely unsuitable for security fixes of any significant magnitude," he said.

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