Windows Client Update, February 16, 2006: IE 7.0 Beta 2 Preview A Different Beast

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NetPro Computing ====================

1. Commentary
- IE 7.0 Beta 2 Preview A Different Beast

2. News & Views
- Here Come the Exploits: Microsoft Patches 7 Flaws

3. Resources
- Tip: Removing "Help and Support" from Windows XP start menu
- Featured Thread: Google Desktop--Security Risk?

4. New and Improved
- Tell Us About a Hot Product and Get a T-Shirt!

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==== 1. Commentary: IE 7.0 Beta 2 Preview A Different Beast ====
by David Chernicoff, [email protected]

For those of you who can’t get enough beta software, Microsoft has made available the Beta 2 Preview of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 7.0. The usual caveats apply: This isn’t released software, Microsoft doesn't support it, and it shouldn’t be installed on a production system. If none of that stops you, you can download the beta preview at this URL:
Even if you're gung ho about testing IE 7.0, I’d suggest you start by reading the technology overview documentation, which can be downloaded at this URL:

I know many people will be interested in examining IE 7.0; make sure that you also consider the down side of doing so at this time. IE 7.0 is very different in appearance and behavior from IE 6.0. If you're used to a customized browser interface on your current browser and any of the various third-party add-ins, you’ll have to start from scratch to customize IE 7.0, and you'll likely find that your third-party tools no longer function.

IE 7.0 protects users from themselves as well as from the normal avenues of attack, disabling malicious content by default. This means that you might have trouble connecting to many sites and Web content that you currently access unless you enable specific features of the browser, so this beta preview is for the hands-on type who doesn't mind configuring his or her own browser tools. For example, with cross-domain scripting attacks, in which a Web page opens up a legitimate site in a different domain, then strips data that the user enters, IE 7.0 limits the activity of the Web site to the site's domain only. However, if the Web site is one that transfers commercial transaction control to another site (a type of online transaction that's fairly common) users would have to explicitly allow such activity in the browser configuration, then disable it after the transaction to provide maximum security from external attacks.

More About Baseline Configurations

In response to my column of February 2, "Windows OneCare Worth At Least One Look," I received several messages from vendors who make what they believe are the best-in-class standalone system utilities, who wrote that no product can replace the capabilities that their products offer. I agree completely with that sentiment. The point that needs to be made, however, is that the vast majority of small office/home office (SOHO) users get a negative experience by being forced to use the various utility suites installed on most of the computers sold today. These users have neither the skills nor the time to figure out how to make these utilities work best, and the availability of OneCare gives them a baseline configuration from which they can evaluate other third-party tools. This isn’t the case with corporate volume purchasers who are able to specify configurations and have the IT personnel to ensure their configurations work correctly.


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==== 2. News & Views ====
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Here Come the Exploits: Microsoft Patches 7 Flaws

It's been almost 6 months since we've seen a Microsoft monthly security update with several new fixes. This month, the company shipped seven security fixes, two of which are labeled as critical. Every time Microsoft issues patches, hackers review the flaws to see which they can exploit. Security researchers were quick to issue warnings that some of the flaws Microsoft has fixed are incredibly easy to exploit. The point is clear: Users who don't update their machines with the fixes soon could be in trouble.

The most serious flaw, perhaps, is in Windows Media Player (WMP) 10 for Windows XP. Hackers who successfully exploit this flaw can remotely control the affected PC. Security researchers are most worried about this flaw because it's easy to exploit and few users would expect an attack to come from within WMP. The other critical flaw, in the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) image-rendering engine, has similar properties, in that it allows remote code execution. The patch is an updated version of the patch for the Windows Metafile Format (WMF) flaw that Microsoft issued last month.

The other five fixes are all rated important. These flaws involve various components of Windows, including the WMP plug-in for non-Microsoft browsers, TCP/IP, the Web Client Service, the Input Method Editor, and Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2000.

In related news, Microsoft has elected not to fix a new zero-day vulnerability in IE 5.0 and later until it ships XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) in late 2007. According to the company, the flaw, which was actually discovered last summer, requires users to follow an exact series of steps for a successful exploit to occur. For this reason, Microsoft doesn't feel the flaw warrants an immediate fix. It's unclear why the company can't simply fix this flaw in a future monthly security release. After all, Microsoft has scheduled at least 18 of them before XP SP3 ships.

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==== 3. Resources ====
Tip: There must be something in the air, because in the last week I’ve received three email messages asking me how to remove the “Help and Support” entry from the Windows XP Start menu. I replied to the first message and pointed out that the entry can be disabled when you customize the Start Menu by doing the following:

1. Right-click on the Taskbar and select properties.
2. Select the Start Menu tab.
3. Click Customize.
4. Click Advanced.
5. Uncheck the Help and Support check box in the Advanced Start menu options list.
6. Click OK.

I got a quick response asking if there was a way to apply this change to a group of computers without having to visit each computer. There is. You can use Group Policy from the User Configuration / Administrative Templates / Start Menu and Taskbar group by selecting Enable the Remove Help menu for Start Menu policy.
Contributed by David Chernicoff.

Featured Thread:
Google Desktop--security risk? See what Mark Joseph Edwards has to say about it on the Security Matters blog:

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