Microsoft Vulnerabilities & Admin Privileges

BeyondTrust, January 28th, 2011

Some of you may have already seen the annual report we do each year on vulnerabilities in Microsoft products. Our last report found that in 90% of critical vulnerabilities could be mitigated with the removal of administrative rights.

This presents three sources of risks to Windows desktops in a business environment:

  • Users that are slow to download the latest patches leave their PCs vulnerable
  • Discovered vulnerabilities that have not yet been patched
  • Vulnerabilities Microsoft is not yet aware of, but there is some awareness in the hacker community

But alas, today a Computerworld article highlights the trouble with relying on Microsoft patches alone to protect PCs from Microsoft vulnerabilities. Microsoft pulled a December 14th Outlook patch after it caused several performance issues on PCs that downloaded it, reissuing a fixed patch over a  month later.

This means PCs were left unpatched for at least a month and Computerworld reveals, this isn’t the first time. Microsoft’s own blog post responding to a recent FTP vulnerability in Windows 7 seems to indicate that they may not be patching it:

“We’ll continue to investigate this issue and, if necessary, we‘ll take appropriate action to help protect customers.”

I don’t blame Microsoft. They work hard, push out a lot of patches and fix critical vulnerabilities as quickly as possible. But when you’re talking about several suites of software that are amongst the most common applications on the desktop, that’s a big target and a lot of software.

No vendor could possibly keep up with it, but that’s why the organizations has to remove administrative rights to protect themselves under the real-world circumstance of prolific vulnerabilities.