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Microsoft Releases Security Updates

Some experts warn Internet worms or hacker tools could surface soon

Microsoft released four security bulletins last week totaling 20 security fixes, significantly more than a typical month's worth of fixes. They affect most of the company's operating systems, and eight of the 20 flaws are ranked as critical, the company's most serious ranking.

The vulnerabilities expose companies to a range of risks, including direct attacks on their systems and denial-of-service and remote-code execution attacks that make worm and virus attacks possible and could let hackers get at systems via the Internet.

As The Worm Turns
Internet worm Vulnerability announced Attack date Difference
Witty Worm 3/18/04 3/19/04 Less than 48 hours
Blaster 7/16/03 8/11/03 26 days
Slammer 7/24/02 1/25/03 170 days
Code Red 6/18/01 7/16/01 28 days
Data: Spire Security
The flaws affect Windows NT Workstation 4.0, NT Server 4.0, Windows 2000, XP, and Windows Server 2003. One of the critical bulletins also affects versions of the company's desktop operating systems Windows 98, SE, and Millennium Edition.

Microsoft now discloses security vulnerabilities monthly, instead of weekly or more frequently as it used to. That has eased the patch-management burden on companies. "This is easier for companies to handle than patches being issued individually two or three times a week," says Gartner research director John Pescatore.

Security vendors are warning that hacker exploits or an Internet worm will likely surface within weeks to hit these weak spots. "It's difficult to predict what will catch the attention of hackers," says Vince Gullotto, VP of Network Associates, McAfee's Antivirus and Vulnerability Emergency Response Team. "But I'd be surprised if we didn't start seeing some exploits soon."

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