A patch has been widely released for a vulnerability in the productivity suite, a problem rated as “highly critical” by one security vendor.

The flaw could be exploited by creating a malicious file in the Windows Metafile (WMF) or Enhanced Metafile (EMF) formats. If the file was opened by a user, it could start running unauthorized code on a computer, according to an advisory by Linux distribution vendor Red Hat Inc. which offers the OpenOffice suite with several of its products. is a free software suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet and a presentation program. It’s a competitor to Microsoft Corp.’s Office suite, although it’s not as widely used. has published a patch, which in turn is being distributed by Red Hat.

The problem was first reported in October, but the vendors who distribute OpenOffice — who often work together on security issues — opted not to issue the patch until acknowledged earlier this week it was a security issue, said Mark Cox [cq], director of Red Hat’s Security Response Team.

No public exploits or even proof-of-concept code has been discovered, he added.

Red Hat rated the flaw as only “important” since a user would have to open a malicious file, Cox said. Red Hat users will either receive an update automatically or notification to upgrade their software, he added.

Secunia ApS, however, rated the vulnerability as “highly critical,” a rank of “four” on a five-number scale of increasing severity.

The WMF format proved problematic for’s rival in 2006. After pressure from its customers, Microsoft issued an out-of-cycle patch early last year for its operating systems after widespread attempts to exploit a WMF vulnerability. The flaw — one of the top security problems of 2006 — also left Windows systems vulnerable to running code if a malicious WMF was opened.