Microsoft's latest patches squash potential USB hijack

Microsoft's Patch Tuesday fixes four sets of critical vulnerabilities, including many found in Internet Explorer

As part of its monthly issue of software patches, Microsoft has fixed a Windows vulnerability that would have allowed someone to subvert a computer's security using only a USB thumb drive and some attack code.

The vulnerability, MS13-027, is one of seven bulletins that Microsoft has issued for March's Patch Tuesday, a monthly release of bug fixes that Microsoft issues on the second Tuesday of each month.

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Modest in scope compared to last month, this month's collection addresses four critical bulletins, and another three Microsoft categorized as important.

Collectively, these bulletins address 20 different vulnerabilities. Nine are in Internet Explorer, while the rest were found in Silverlight, Visio Viewer, SharePoint in conjunction with Windows Server, OneNote and Outlook for Mac, and in Windows.

MS13-027 is one fix enterprise administrators should review, advised Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, in a statement. The vulnerability allows an attacker to gain entry into a computer, and secure administrative privileges, through a USB drive -- even if the computer's auto-run is disabled.

"You've seen this attack method in movies for years, and it's now showing in enterprises all over the world," Storms wrote. "The potential for harm with this vulnerability can't be overstated."

While labeled only as important, rather than critical, an exploit for this vulnerability could be dangerous in some scenarios. Someone with access to company premises after hours could use the vulnerability to purloin data from work machines. Public kiosks and other public computers without locked cabinets could also be at risk, Storms advised.

"These vulnerabilities could be exploited by attackers to gain the ability to execute code in the kernel, but the attacker must be physically at the computer and able to insert a USB device into the vulnerable machine," added Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer for identity management software provider BeyondTrust, in another note.

Maiffret advised administrators to take a look at the nine critical vulnerabilities in the bulletin MS13-021 for Internet Explorer. They affect every current version of Internet Explorer, versions 6 through 10, thus "implicitly making all supported Windows platforms -- including Windows RT -- a target for attackers," Maiffrent wrote.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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