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Microsoft Warns on New Windows Exploit

Microsoft on Thursday confirmed that it's investigating reports of a new attack exploit that targets one or more vulnerabilities in its Windows Animated Cursor handling implementation.

The vulnerabilities stem from the fact that Windows doesn't properly validate animated cursors prior to rendering them, Microsoft confirms. As a result, officials acknowledge, an attacker could craft a seemingly innocuous animated cursor and embed a malicious payload.

While the attack vector itself might be new, the means of exposure certainly isn't. "In order for this attack to be carried out, a user must either visit a [malicious] Web site...view a specially crafted e-mail message, or opening a specially crafted e-mail attachment sent to them by an attacker," wrote researcher Adrian Stone on the MSRC blog.

In the worst-case scenario, Microsoft researchers confirm, an attacker could take complete control of an affected system.

"[T]he attack appears to be targeted and not widespread [but] we are monitoring the issue and will update...as new information becomes available," Stone wrote.

Microsoft has known about this vulnerability for several months now. "We have been working on this investigation since December to fully understand the issue and have been working to develop a comprehensive update as part of our standard MSRC process. Determina [an independent security researcher] has been and continues to work with us responsibly on this issue, and we thank them for helping us to protect customers," writes Microsot's Chris Budd on the MSRC blog.

According to Budd, the attacks themselves are a more recent phenomenon, Budd confirms. Security specialist McAfee first contacted Microsoft on Wednesday about a potential exploit, and -- 24 hours later, on Thursday -- Microsoft released Security Advisory 935423.

Past exploits -- such as any of several Word zero-day attacks that surfaced during both December and January -- haven't always been immediately patched.

This time around, Microsoft is at least considering an out-of-cycle update.

In the interim, Stone says, Microsoft has updated its Windows Live OneCare safety scanner to detect and remove malicious software that attempts to exploit this vulnerability.

Those using Internet Explorer 7 on Windows Vista are protected with Internet Explorer 7.0's protected mode.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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