Bugs and fixes: Security fixes for all major browsers

Essential patches popped up for all the big browsers. Plus: Excel and Moviemaker updates, and watch out for F1.

Whatever you use to surf the Web needs a fix. Developers of all five major browsers--Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera--recently released important security patches.

To head off a growing number of attacks against a publicly known security bug, Microsoft took the unusual step of releasing IE's fix outside its usual Patch Tuesday monthly update cycle. The cumulative IE patch closes a total of ten bugs, the most significant of which let bad guys to invade a PC via IE 6 or IE 7 using a malicious Web page. Attacks against the flaw started out small-scale, but became more prevalent within a few weeks.

While IE 8 wasn't affected by this flaw, it needed several other fixes present in the cumulative patch. Whatever your combination of Windows and IE, odds are the patch is rated critical for you, since only Windows Server 2003 with IE 6 or IE 8, and Windows Server 2008 with IE 8, get anything less than a critical rating. Pick up the fix via Windows Update, and for more details see Microsoft's security bulletin.

Unfixed IE Flaw

But IE users on Windows 2000 and XP can't let their guard down even after installing the fix. Another vulnerability that allows a specially crafted site to use VBScript to get to unsafe Windows Help files through Internet Explorer remains unfixed. But there's a warning sign: An attack would have to display a dialog box that asks you to press the F1 key. If you don't hit F1, the attack won't trigger.

Windows Server 2003 is also affected, but Windows 7, Vista, and Server 2008 are not. Techie users comfortable with the Windows command line can apply a workaround to "lock down the legacy Windows Help system." Get the instructions.

Last Gasp for Firefox 3.0

Mozilla pushed out patches for the Firefox 3.0, 3.5, and 3.6 browsers. If you're still using 3.0, take special note: The 3.0.19 update will be the last. To avoid getting stuck with an out-of-date (and therefore unsafe) browser, head to firefox.com to pick up version 3.6. The 3.0.19 update closes five critical security flaws. All but one of the flaws involves JavaScript (the last flaw can crash the browser engine), and all of them could potentially be hit to "run arbitrary code" (security-speak for "the bad guy can do anything he wants").

The 3.5.9 update closes the same five critical flaws, but the 3.6.2 patch adds in one more critical fix. Mozilla released the 3.6.2 update a week earlier than the other two to address a publicly known flaw in the Web Open Font Format that could be targeted by a malicious Web page, and affecting only 3.6. For any Firefox version, head to Help, Check for Updates to make sure you have the latest and greatest. Get more details on the 3.0.19, the 3.5.9, and the 3.6.2 update.

Chrome and Safari Updates

Google's Chrome update to 4.1.249.1036 closes four high-priority security flaws, including one that earned its discoverer, Sergey Glazunov, the first $1337 reward from the search giant. Google typically offers a $500 to $1000 reward to bug hunters, but the $1337 figure is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the geek-speak spelling of "elite." Glazunov discovered a bug in the way that WebKit, Chrome's (and Safari's) browser engine, handles Javascript.

Google sends out behind-the-scenes automatic updates to its browser, but to make sure you have the latest, click on the wrench menu-bar icon and choose About Google Chrome. (Read more on Chrome releases.) Safari's fixes for its ColorSync, ImageIO, and WebKit components head off potential attacks that could use a maliciously crafted image in a variety of formats, or poisoned code on the page, to run arbitrary code. Run Apple's Software Update utility on your Mac or PC to pick up the patch to version 4.0.5.

The final browser fix is for Opera. Version 10.51 closes two "highly severe" security flaws, one of which could be used to crash the browser and potentially run arbitrary code. The other could potentially allow a bad guy to pull sensitive information from the browser's cache. The update also squashes bugs in the browser's mail program, the user interface, and the JavaScript engine.

To make sure you're using the latest Opera, click the red O icon in the upper left, and then choose Help, Check for Updates. And see the Opera 10.51 changelog for a full list of changes.

Fixes for Excel and Movie Maker

When you're finished with updating your browser(s), wrap things up by making sure you have the only two fixes to come out during Microsoft's regular Patch Tuesday. The first bug affects Windows Movie Maker 2.1, 2.6, and 6.0, as well as Microsoft Producer 2003, on Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7. XP and Vista both shipped with vulnerable versions, according to Microsoft, versions that could allow an attack if you open a malicious .mswmm file download or e-mail attachment. But note that the patch fixes only Movie Maker, not Microsoft Producer 2003. Microsoft is leaving that program unfixed, and in its security bulletin, the company recommends removing it.

Microsoft also has what it calls a Fix-It available to remove its file associations so that it no longer opens .mswmm files. Get the Fix-It, and read more on the patch.

The patch for Excel closes multiple holes in Microsoft's program that could similarly be triggered if you open a malicious Excel file. Office XP, 2003, and 2007 are vulnerable, as are Office 2004 and 2008 for Mac. Sharepoint 2007 and the Office Excel Viewer are also at risk. Read full details on the Excel patch, and to make sure you have both it and the Movie Maker update, run Windows Update.

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