Bluetooth security hole plugged: Microsoft

Microsoft Corp. released 10 security patches Tuesday, one of which is designed to reduce the risk to users of the Windows implementation of the Bluetooth wireless protocol.

The Redmond, Wash. software maker delivered seven separate security updates, three of which were considered critical, the highest threat ranking in Microsoft’s four-step scoring system. It also disabled a third-party ActiveX control bundled with peripherals made by Logitech.

The update that caught the eyes of most analysts was MS09-030 , a critical update that patches a single bug in Windows’ implementation of Bluetooth. “This is the most interesting of the bunch,” said Tyler Reguly, a security research engineer with nCircle Network Security Inc. “We haven’t seen Microsoft patching Bluetooth before for one thing.”

Eric Schultze, chief technology officer of Shavlik Technologies, echoed Reguly, saying that he couldn’t remember Microsoft ever addressing Bluetooth, either. “This sounds like it’s pretty bad,” said Schultze, “but the bulletin is unclear and doesn’t tell you whether Bluetooth is enabled by default on Windows XP .” If it’s not, he added, the danger would be reduced.

An attacker could exploit the flaw by flooding the receiving system — a laptop in a public place, for example — with a large number of malformed SDPs (Service Discovery Protocols). No user interaction is required, meaning that an attack could be mounted without the user knowing.

A Symantec Corp. researcher also tagged the Bluetooth bug as the most notable of the month. “The vulnerability is especially noteworthy because it allows an attacker in range of a Bluetooth-enabled device running Windows XP or Vista to take control of that device,” said Ben Greenbaum, a Symantec senior research manager, in an e-mail Tuesday.

The other two critical updates are run-of-the-mill client-side bugs, said Reguly, the kind Windows users have come to expect to see each month. “The DirectX and Internet Explorer, are standard client-side stuff,” Reguly said. “Both would use the Web as an attack vector, and well, IE, we almost always see patches for IE.”

Schultze agreed. “Standard IE,” he said. “It’s not even fun to talk about these any more.”

MS08-031 patches a pair of vulnerabilities in IE, one of which Microsoft pegged as critical, while the other it judged as “important,” its second-highest rating. The bugs affect all currently-supported versions of the browser, including IE7 on the newest updates to both Windows XP and Windows Vista, SP3 (Service Pack 3) and SP1, respectively.

Both can be exploited by tempting users to a malicious Web site, said Microsoft.

MS08-033 , also marked as critical, fixes a pair of serious flaws in DirectX, Windows’ library of multimedia APIs (application programming interfaces). Attackers could exploit the bugs by feeding malicious files to users or possibly getting them to steer to a site that hosted malformed multimedia content streams.

Schultze wasn’t sure whether an exploit would require help from the user. “The bulletin just isn’t clear,” he said. He also pointed out both bugs involve flaws in the “quartz.dll,” a file instrumental to DirectShow, one of DirectX’s APIs. “Quartz.dll has had numerous problems in the past,” said Schultze. “At least three in the last three years.”

Computerworld , however, was able to find just two Microsoft bulletins — MS07-064 from last year and MS05-050 from 2005 — that finger quartz.dll. Beyond the three critical bulletins, the most intriguing, said Reguly, was MS08-032 , a “moderate” update that fixes a flaw in Microsoft’s Speech API and disables an ActiveX control created by third-party developer BackWeb.

“They completely left the Speech API out of the pre-patch notice,” noted Reguly, referring to the advance warning of Tuesday’s updates that Microsoft issued last Thursday.

According to BackWeb’s own security advisory , the flawed ActiveX control is included with the Logitech Desktop Manager, update notification software bundled with Logitech’s hardware, including keyboards, mice and Web cams designed for Windows. A patched version of the ActiveX control is available from Logitech in an update from its site.

Microsoft simply disabled the flawed control by setting its “kill bit” in the Windows registry, a last-ditch defense often recommended when a patch isn’t available. Microsoft, however, has said in the past the it would set kill bits for trouble third-party ActiveX controls via a security update at the developer’s request. In April, for example, Microsoft disabled a Yahoo Inc. ActiveX control.

Left unfixed Tuesday is a bug in IE that Microsoft warned users about two weeks ago. That bug, when combined with a flaw in Apple Inc.’s Safari Web browser, leaves users open to attack, Microsoft said in a security advisory on May 30.

“They haven’t had time to fix that,” said Schultze. “But it will be interesting to see how they handle it when they do.”

June’s security updates can be downloaded and installed via the Microsoft Update and Windows Update services, as well as through Windows Server Update Services.

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