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Security UPDATE--Security Researchers Vulnerable to Buffer Underflow Attack?--January 5, 2005

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The Key to Stopping Email Attacks: Sender ID Can't Do It

Exchange & Outlook Administrator


1. In Focus: Security Researchers Vulnerable to Buffer Underflow Attack?

2. Security News and Features

- Recent Security Vulnerabilities

- Exploits on the Loose Against Unpatched Bugs in Windows

- Netcraft Joins the Anti-Phishing Brigades

3. Security Matters Blog

- Update Your Netcat Software for Windows

4. Security Toolkit


- Security Forum Featured Thread

5. New and Improved

- Remotely Change Network Passwords


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==== 1. In Focus: Security Researchers Vulnerable to Buffer Underflow Attack? ====

by Mark Joseph Edwards, News Editor, mark at ntsecurity / net

It's inevitable: Someone posts proof-of-concept code, and almost immediately someone goes to work developing a malicious exploit. Do these exploiters have nothing better to do, nothing better to think about?

Anyway, as you probably know by this time, a series of new Windows vulnerabilities was recently published in the usual places. And now at least one exploit, the Phel worm, is on the loose. The worm installs code on penetrated systems to open back doors and make those systems part of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) network. The worm infects systems by using inroads through Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), often without the user's knowledge.

On the surface, these vulnerabilities and exploits might seem to come from opposing forces: On one side are "researchers" who release proof-of-concept code for their discoveries. On the other side are people who turn the proven concept into something malicious for their own nefarious purposes.

The side that puzzles me is the alleged "researchers." Are they suffering some sort of mental buffer underflow attack (i.e., not clearly thinking things through)? They're very adept at finding security vulnerabilities, yet some of them fail to recognize one of the most obvious security problems of all--their own premature public revelations of explicit details of security weaknesses. It's possible that some researchers do see the problem and they simply don't care, which could mean that those particular researchers and the malicious coders are, for all intents and purposes, cohorts playing a dastardly game.

Other researchers make a half-hearted effort to contact a vendor. In one relatively recent case of vulnerability reporting, a researcher claimed that he tried to contact a vendor but couldn't, so he thought it reasonable to release his detailed findings to the public. I happen to use the product in question, so I decided to try to contact the vendor myself. After about 60 seconds of clicking around on the vendor Web site, I found several contacts and emailed them the researcher's findings. Within 24 hours, the vendor emailed me back a solution. I then forwarded the vendor-provided solution to the researcher, who didn't bother to publish it! In this case, a so-called "researcher" could scour code for vulnerabilities, yet couldn't find any contact info for the vendor! Obviously, such researchers aren't really researchers at all. They too play a dastardly game.

On another note, last week I wrote about an incident that involved Microsoft's release of a critical update for Windows Firewall that improves the way in which the firewall handles local subnet restrictions. The update wasn't part of Microsoft's monthly security bulletins. If you missed last week's newsletter, then you can read about the reasons why this happened in the December 29, 2004 Security UPDATE commentary (first URL below) and in the related news story "Critical Update for Windows Firewall Flies Under the Radar" (second URL below).

A reader wrote in response to the commentary that, "The \[Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA)\] for use with SMS 2003 doesn't report the firewall update patch." The reader did add that, in his situation, the lack isn't an issue because he doesn't rely on local subnet restrictions for defining firewall exceptions. Nevertheless, the reader does point out another aspect of notifying users about critical updates that needs better attention from Microsoft.

We posted an Instant Poll question last week that asks, "Do you think Microsoft should improve its security alerting process?" The possible answers are "Yes, it should send alerts about all security updates" and "No, the process works fine for me the way it is." So far, we haven't had a huge flood of people answer the question, but most of those who have answered have said "Yes." If you haven't taken 30 seconds to visit our Web site and answer the question, please do--the poll results will undoubtedly be read by Microsoft and could make a difference in how the company handles its security update alerting process in the future.

That said, I hope you all had pleasant holidays. Best wishes to all of you for the new year, and until next time, have a great week!


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==== 2. Security News and Features ====

Recent Security Vulnerabilities

If you subscribe to this newsletter, you also receive Security Alerts, which inform you about recently discovered security vulnerabilities. You can also find information about these discoveries at

Exploits on the Loose Against Unpatched Bugs in Windows

Researchers have posted proof-of-concept code that can take advantage of vulnerabilities in Windows platforms. The concept code works against vulnerabilities in the Windows Help subsystem and in code used to load desktop icons and the Windows Help subsystem.

Netcraft Joins the Anti-Phishing Brigades

Netcraft, a company known for its statistical analysis of a vast number of Web sites, has joined those groups who attempt to prevent phishing scams by releasing a new toolbar for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). The toolbar performs checks on URLs and enforces behavior changes in the Web browser.


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==== 3. Security Matters Blog ====

by Mark Joseph Edwards,

Check out these recent entries in the Security Matters blog:

Update Your Netcat Software for Windows

An unchecked buffer in the popular Netcat tool for Windows could allow remote code execution. The vulnerability, discovered by Hat Squad, can be exploited when using the netcat -e option.

==== 4. Security Toolkit ====

FAQ: How can I quickly search for shared folders that are published in Active Directory (AD)?

by John Savill,

Find the answer at

Security Forum Featured Thread: Fending Off DDoS Attacks

A forum participant writes that he helps run a major Internet-based retail operation and wonders if he can make any advance preparations to mitigate or alleviate the threat of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Join the discussion at:


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==== 5. New and Improved ====

by Renee Munshi, [email protected]

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