Patch Tuesday Analysis for December 2005

Today Microsoft released 2 security updates.  One affects the Windows kernel and the other impacts Internet Explorer.  Both present risks primarily to workstations and Terminal Services hosting end-user applications.  The kernel update impacts Windows 2000 only.  Many organizations will be able to limit their effort to deploying just the IE update to their desktops.

MS05-054 - Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (905915)

This critical bulletin addresses a multitude of vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer 5 and 6 on all versions of Windows and I recommend installing it as soon as possible on systems where interactive users browse the Internet, read email or engage in other activities that can result in using Internet Explorer to view web content from untrusted or unknown sources.  Such systems would include workstations and Terminal Services servers that host end-user application accounts.  You may be able to avoid loading this patch on most other servers provided administrators follow best practice and refrain from web browsing, reading email and similar activities that bring them into contact with untrusted content. 

Before applying this patch I recommend testing it on your typical workstation build and reviewing the known issues with this update as documented in MS knowledge base article 905915.  (At the time of writing 905915 was not available at Microsoft's site so I am not able to provide comments on it. One of the issues pertains to version issues between different hotfixes so review it carefully when it becomes available.) 

Bottom line:  End-user computers need this patch.  The workarounds listed by Microsoft are not practical for most business environments.

MS05-055 - Vulnerability in Windows Kernel Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (908523)

This vulnerability affects only Windows 2000 service pack 4 systems.  (Previous Windows 2000 service packs no longer receive security support from Microsoft.)  Further, this vulnerability is only a likely risk for Windows 2000 workstations and Terminal Servers where non-administrators log on through Remote Desktop Protocol.  End-users could exploit this vulnerability with a specially crafted application to elevate their privileges on their workstation or Terminal Server.  Other attackers would have to engineer a situation that results in the execution of a specially crafted application. 

Bottom line: I recommend installing this patch (after testing) on Windows 2000 workstations and Terminal Services servers where end-users log on.

BulletinExploit Types
/Technologies Affected
System Types AffectedExploit
details public?
/ Being exploited?
Comprehensive,
practical
workaround
available?
MS severity ratingProducts AffectedNotesRandy's recommendation
MS05-054

905915
Arbitrary code

/ IE
Workstations
Terminal Servers
Yes/NoYesCritical XP
Server 2003
Datacenter Server 2000
Small Business Server 2003
Small Business Server 2000
Windows Millennium
Win98
End-user computers need this patch. The workarounds listed by Microsoft are not practical for most business environments. I recommend installing it as soon as possible on systems where interactive users browse the Internet, read email or engage in other activities that can result in using Internet Explorer to view web content from untrusted or unknown sources.
MS05-055

908523
Privilege elevation

/ Windows
Workstations
Terminal Servers
No/NoNoImportant Win2000
Small Business Server 2000
This vulnerability affects only Windows 2000 service pack 4 systems.I recommend installing this patch (after testing) on Windows 2000 workstations and Terminal Services servers where end-users log on.

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