Two of the eight updates will patch Windows, another two are aimed at Office, while the remaining four target Internet Explorer (IE), SharePoint, Windows Media Player, and Visual Basic and Visual Studio, Microsoft said today in its monthly advance warning of what to expect next Tuesday.
One of the two updates slated for Windows may be a fix, finally, for an eight-month-old vulnerability that Microsoft first acknowledged in April, and which has been exploited by hackers since mid-October, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security Inc.
"The bulletin Microsoft marked 'Windows 1' looks like the issue in the 951306 advisory," said Storms, referring to the April warning of a rights elevation bug in all versions of Windows. Several weeks before that, Cesar Cerrudo, a researcher and security consultant, said he would disclose a Windows flaw at an upcoming conference; at the time, Microsoft had downplayed the issue, dubbing the problem a "design flaw," not a security bug.
In mid-October, however, Microsoft confirmed that hackers were actively exploiting the unpatched bug.
Overall, said Storms, the patch list for next week looks like a "sampler plate, a smorgasbord if you will, a little of everything."
Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer at Qualys Inc., agreed. "It looks pretty normal and has the usual suspects," he said, ticking off the bulletins aimed at Office, IE and Windows Media Player, all which have been patched several times this year.
Both Storms and Kandek, however, noted significance of the other Windows update. Dubbed "Windows 2" by Microsoft, it will patch newer versions of the operating system -- Vista and Server 2008 -- but is not applicable to older editions, such as Windows 2000, XP or Server 2003.
Typically, it's the other way around, said Kandek. "Vista and Server 2008 were developed in a different way, with the Security Development Lifecycle (or SDL) process, and there was much more scrutiny on the code."
"The bug must be in code [in Vista and Server 2008] from the older versions that was rewritten from scratch, or in something new," said Storms.
Kandek echoed that thought. "We know Vista uses lots of components and code from the older operating systems, but Microsoft also added new services," he said. "This seems to be a vulnerability in a new service."
Of the other bulletins, Kandek pointed to the SharePoint patch as perhaps the most interesting. "We don't see that very often, and it could be interesting because it's on the server side."
Storms, meanwhile, pointed out that the two updates for Office -- which will patch Word and Excel -- are probably fixes for file format bugs since both apply to not only the Windows versions of those applications, but also the corresponding editions for the Mac.
If Microsoft issues all eight bulletins -- at times it has dropped one at the last minute -- it will have released 77 for the year, up from 2007's total of 69 and close to 2006's 78, but far below 2000's record of 100 updates.
Microsoft will release the December security updates at approximately 1 p.m. EST on Tuesday.