Third Microsoft Excel attack posted

A hacker has published code that exploits a critical vulnerability in Microsoft's Excel software -- the third such disclosure in a week.

Excel users have one more reason to worry. On Tuesday, a hacker published code that takes advantage of an unpatched flaw in the Microsoft spreadsheet software, the third such exploit to be disclosed in the past week.

This attack could be used to run unauthorized software on a PC, but it requires that the victim first be tricked into opening an Excel document, according to an alert published on the Web site.

The attack takes advantage of Adobe Systems' Flash technology, which can be used to provide graphics and animation to Excel documents. "When the target user opens the Excel file, the [malicious] Flash code will execute automatically without user interaction," the alert states.

This latest attack is worrisome because the code can be executed with little user interaction, said Juha-Matti Laurio, an independent security researcher based in Helsinki. "Embedding this type of objects to spreadsheets is not common, but it doesn't matter, because the infection is caused just by opening the file," he said.

Microsoft's security team had a busy couple of weeks. Last Tuesday, the company patched a critical flaw in its Word software that had been exploited by attackers, and Microsoft is also contending with attack code that exploits two other Excel flaws. All three Excel flaws have cropped up over the past week.

This latest attack was published late Tuesday on the Full Disclosure security discussion list. It was tested on Office 2003 running on Windows XP Professional Edition and Windows 2000, according to the Full Disclosure posting.

Microsoft was notified of the flaw in May 2006 and has come up with a temporary work-around, the posting states.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests to comment for this story.

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Robert McMillan

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