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Microsoft reports spike in Windows XP attacks

Over 10,000 PCs targeted in past two weeks

Nearly a month after a Google engineer released details of a new Windows XP flaw, criminals have dramatically ramped up online attacks that target the bug.

Microsoft has now logged more than 10,000 attacks. "At first, we only saw legitimate researchers testing innocuous proof-of-concepts. Then, early on June 15th, the first real public exploits emerged," Microsoft said in a blog posting. "Those initial exploits were targeted and fairly limited. In the past week, however, attacks have picked up."

The attacks, which are being launched from malicious web pages, are concentrated in the US, Russia, Portugal, Germany and Brazil, Microsoft said.

PCs based in Russia and Portugal, in particular, are seeing a very high concentration of these attacks, Microsoft said.

According to security vendor Symantec, these attacks peaked late last week. "Symantec has seen increased activity around this vulnerability. The increased activity started around June 21 and peaked around June 26 and 27," a company spokesman said. Attacks have leveled out since then, he added.

Criminals are using the attack code to download different malicious programs, including viruses, Trojans and software called Obitel, which simply downloads more malware, Microsoft said.

The flaw that's exploited in all of these attacks lies in the Windows Help and Support Center software that comes with Windows XP. It was disclosed on June 10 by Google researcher Tavis Ormandy. This Help Center software also ships with Windows Server 2003, but that operating system is apparently not vulnerable to the attack, Microsoft said.

Ormandy was criticised by some in the security community for not giving Microsoft more time to patch the flaw, which he disclosed to the software vendor on June 5. He released details of the bug five days later, apparently after failing to convince Microsoft to fix the issue within 60 days.

In a security advisory released June 10, Microsoft outlines several ways to turn off the Windows Help Center Protocol (HCP).

Microsoft's next set of security updates are due July 13.

See also:

PC security advice


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