October 31, 2014

Microsoft releases details of zero-day vulnerability in Word

Microsoft has published information about a new zero-day vulnerability in its Word product. There is a real-world exploit for the vulnerability and it is currently being exploited in the wild. Microsoft says it is “aware of limited, targeted attacks directed at Microsoft Word 2010.”

According to Microsoft’s Dustin Childs, the vulnerability can be exploited by an attacker and allow “remote code execution if someone was convinced to open a specially crafted Rich Text Format (RTF) file or a specially crafted mail in Microsoft Outlook while using Microsoft Word as the email viewer.”

Microsoft-Word-LogoMicrosoft’s immediate response has been to publish a one-click Fix it  which basically disables support for RTF in Microsoft Word. Although Microsoft wants to “encourage all customers using Microsoft Word” to apply the Fix it, disabling RTF support could be troublesome for those who rely on this document format.

The vulnerability, which was reported to Microsoft by members of the Google Security Team, can be exploited via email or via the web. In the email scenario, the attacker sends a specially crafted RTF document as the contents of the message. The vulnerability is exploited when the message is previewed or opened in Outlook where Microsoft Word is the email viewer. An attacker could also exploit the vulnerability by sending a specially crafted RTF document as an attachment. In the web scenario, the attacker would need to trick the user into downloading the document and then opening it.

This remote code execution vulnerability exists because of bugs in the way that Word parses maliciously crafted RTF documents. The bugs cause a memory corruption and give the attacker a way to execute arbitrary code. The vulnerability can also be exploited through Microsoft Outlook if Word is used as the email viewer, which it is by default in Microsoft Outlook 2007, Microsoft Outlook 2010, and Microsoft Outlook 2013.

Microsoft is working on a full fix but it isn’t known if the Redmond company will be able to develop and test the fix by April 8th, the date of the company’s next Patch Tuesday. Patch Tuesday is the name given to Microsoft’s monthly security updates which patch Microsoft’s products to fix security issues.

Interestingly, support for Office 2003 ends April 8th and Microsoft has included Word 2003 Service Pack 3 in its list of affected products. If Microsoft doesn’t manage to release a full patch by April 8th then Office 2003 could remain vulnerable without any hope of a solution. Even if Microsoft does release a patch now, this incident highlights the dangers of using Microsoft products which have reached their end-of-life.

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