Microsoft warns of virtual machine vulnerability

Microsoft warned users on Wednesday about two new security vulnerabilities affecting its Microsoft Virtual Machine, Microsoft Proxy Server 2.0 and Microsoft ISA Server 2000 products.

The Microsoft Virtual Machine (VM) contains a critical vulnerability that could allow a remote attacker to gain control of affected machines, according to security bulletin MS03-011. (See http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS03-011.asp.)

The vulnerability, in code for a VM process called the ByteCode Verifier, could enable an attacker to use illegal sequences of byte codes to bypass security checks in the software, Microsoft said.

The ByteCode Verifier process is responsible for checking code as it is being loaded into the Virtual Machine, the company said.

Attackers could launch an attack using a Java applet embedded in a Web page or HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) format e-mail message. Once compromised, a vulnerable machine could be used to run the attacker's code, though only with the permission of the active user account, Microsoft said.

The Microsoft Virtual Machine is a key component of all supported versions of the Windows operating system, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP. It is also shipped with the Internet Explorer Web browser and other Microsoft software, the company said.

Despite being widespread, the new vulnerability is of only limited utility to attackers, Microsoft said.

Recent releases of the Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail clients as well as security patches for older versions prevent Java applets embedded in e-mail messages from being launched. Barring an e-mail borne attack, users would have to be tricked into visiting a Web page that contains the embedded Java applet containing the Virtual Machine attack.

Microsoft issued a patch for the virtual machine, build 3810, and recommended that customers who are using earlier builds upgrade.

Meanwhile, the Microsoft Proxy Server 2.0 and Microsoft ISA Server 2000 vulnerability could enable an individual on an internal network or the Internet to launch a denial of service (DOS) attack against those products, preventing them from responding to internal and external requests, according to information released in Microsoft security bulletin MS03-012. (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/security/bulletin/MS03-012.asp.)

The vulnerability, which Microsoft rated "important," affects the Winsock Proxy service on Proxy Server 2.0 and the Firewall service on ISA Server 2000. Both services redirect communications from Internet applications to the machines running Proxy Server 2.0 or ISA Server, creating a path to the Internet through those products, according to Microsoft.

A flaw in the way each service handles inbound requests from remote clients means that attackers could use a specially formatted request to cause the products to stop responding.

Despite the denial of service capability, however, attackers could not gain remote access to either the ISA Server 2000 or Proxy Server 2.0 machines, Microsoft said.

Customers using the affected products were encouraged to download and install a patch that repairs the affected services, removing the DOS vulnerability.

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Paul Roberts

IDG News Service
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