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Critical flaws found in Windows and Office

Microsoft issues patches for holes that could allow remote attackers to gain control of your PC

Microsoft this week released ten software security patches for its products, including seven that it deemed critical and that could allow remote attackers to take control of systems running the company's software.

The software maker advised customers to download and install critical patches for a wide range of products as soon as possible, including its Windows operating system, Exchange email server and Microsoft Office productivity software.

To see whether your system needs updates, have your PC scanned; afterwards, you'll receive customised recommendations from Microsoft.

The company has published the software updates, labelled MS04-029 through MS04-038, on its website.

The security alerts detail holes in a number of critical components, including Windows components for handling SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), which is used for sending and receiving email, and NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) traffic, as well as a Windows feature for processing compressed .zip files.

The slew of vulnerabilities – more than 21 spread across the ten security bulletins – are sure to cause headaches for network managers, who will be rushing to distribute the patches before software code to exploit the vulnerabilities is released on the internet.

Among the most critical for enterprises, according to Brian Mann, outbreak manager for McAfee's Antivirus Emergency Response Team, are MS04-035 (which patches the SMTP hole) and MS04-036 (which plugs the hole in Windows' handling of NNTP, a protocol used to manage traffic to and from internet news groups).

Both the vulnerabilities described in 035 and 036 affect servers running at the enterprise gateway and will need to be patched as soon as possible, especially with the threat of remote exploit and code execution, Mann says.

While there were no major surprises in the October batch of patches, the sheer number of vulnerabilities disclosed will keep administrators busy, especially in view of the short window of time between publication of a software patch and development of exploit code that takes advantage of it, Larholm says.

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