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Why did Microsoft and Adobe push out security updates back to back?

India’s cybersecurity body has flagged security loopholes in the products of popular developers Microsoft and Adobe that can compromise user systems

Abstract Technology Binary Code Dark Red Background. Cyber Attack, Ransomware, Malware, Scareware Concept

June has turned out to be an eventful month for Microsoft’s security patching team as India’s Computer Emergency Response (CERT-In) brought the Albuquerque-based multinational technology corporation up to task twice in the same month for vulnerabilities across multiple platforms including the new flag ship Windows 11 operating system (OS) and its Edge browser. Microsoft has patched these vulnerabilities since then with two updates, one on June 17 and the other on June 20.

Interestingly, Adobe, the publisher of creative software such as Photoshop and Premier Pro, has also been flagged by the Indian cybersecurity watchdog as having equally severe vulnerabilities as the Microsoft products on the same day (June 16) particularly in creative suite applications inDesign and Illustrator, but according to its security patch notes, Adobe has yet to complete patching all the vulnerabilities described by CERT.

Why it matters: Cyber-attacks have been on the rise since the pandemic started with the Ministry of Home Affairs reporting 12 lakh cyber security incidents in 2020 alone. Some of the more common patterns in attacks all over the world include the exploitation of vulnerabilities in commonly used creative applications, web browsers and operating systems. The fact that CERT-In has flagged these bugs in software used widely around the country should prompt a deeper look into other popular applications, browsers and OSs as well.

What are the vulnerabilities in Microsoft products?

“Multiple vulnerabilities have been reported in various Microsoft products, which could be exploited by an attacker to access sensitive information, bypass security restrictions, perform a denial of service (DoS) attack, escalating privileges and perform spoofing attacks or executing arbitrary codes on the target system,” CERT-In said on its vulnerability notes blog.

CERT-In has flagged 90 sensitive bugs in various Microsoft products on June 16. Among these, 36 vulnerabilities were reported in the Windows operating systems including Windows 7, 8.1, 10 and 11. According to the Microsoft security team’s notes, most of these OS vulnerabilities were traced back to the Windows Server 2019 and 2012, both of which are used by Windows 10 and 11.

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The chinks and bugs in Microsoft products’ armours also extend to the company’s other popular applications and platforms including the 28 bugs found in the widely popular Azure cloud computing infrastructure, which is used by hundreds of application developers to host their product as it supports dozens of different programming languages, tools, and frameworks.

Microsoft Office and Office 365, which consist of daily usage programs such as Word and Excel, was also reported for having five “high” vulnerabilities between the two of them that could let an attacker execute harmful code that could take over an entire system or disclose sensitive information from a document or spreadsheet without the user’s knowledge.

Listed below are the Microsoft programs and platforms in which CERT-In found these vulnerabilities:

  • Windows and Windows servers
  • Microsoft Office and Office 365
  • .NET Framework
  • Azure
  • SharePoint servers
  • SQL servers
  • System Centers Operation Manager
  • Browsers: Edge and Explorer

What is going wrong at Adobe?

According to CERT-In, there are nine major vulnerable chinks in across six of their most popular applications. If an attacker were to access these weak spots, they could wreak havoc on the user’s system by executing arbitrary code which could in turn allow the attacker further access to the victim’s computer, even allowing them to plant dangerous malware in the system or leak important files from the targeted hard drive. Alternately, the attacker could also mess with the victimized users’ privileges and use them to launch a wider attack on Adobe’s servers. These weak spots are present in both the Mac OS and Windows versions of these products.

“These vulnerabilities exist in Adobe products due to improper input validation, improper authorization, heap-based buffer overflow, out-of-bound write, out-of-bound read and use after free flaws,” the CERT-In vulnerability notes said, adding, “An attacker could exploit these vulnerabilities by persuading the victim to open a specifically crafted file or application.”

Corrupted versions of an Adobe product can appear eerily similar to the real thing and users should practice some caution when using these applications, especially if it is a free or pirated version downloaded from a third-party website.

The vulnerable versions of Adobe products are listed below:

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  • Adobe InDesign versions 17.2.1 and 16.4.1
  • Adobe InCopy versions 17.2.1 and 16.4.1
  • Illustrator 2022 version 26.0.2 and Illustrator 2021 version 25.4.5
  • Adobe Bridge version 12.0.1
  • Adobe Animate 22.0.5
  • RoboHelp Server RHS 11 (Update 3)

With seven out of the nine vulnerabilities securely patched, Adobe says that updating to the newest versions of these applications would help reduce chances of an outsider attack

What are some of the common attack patterns in both sets?

While going over CERT-In’s reports, a few probable attack patterns stood out as being common in both the Microsoft and Adobe products. They are listed and described below.

  • Remote code execution: A remote code execution (RCE) attacks allow an attacker to remotely execute malicious code on a computer. The consequences of an RCE vulnerability can range from malware execution to an attacker gaining full control over a compromised machine.
  • Denial of Service attacks: A denial of service attack is focused on making a resource (site, application, server) unavailable for the purpose it was designed. There are many ways to make a service unavailable for legitimate users by manipulating network packets, programming, logical, or resources handling vulnerabilities, among others.
  • Mess with user privilege: Also known as an “elevation of privilege” attack, these attacks occur when an application gains rights or privileges that should not be available to them. Many of the elevation-of-privilege exploits are similar to exploits for other threats. For example, buffer overrun attacks (as was mentioned as a possible attack route for Adobe products) that attempt to write executable code on the target system.
  • Leak memory: A memory leak is essentially a resource leakage prompted by a malicious attack that works by forcing a computer program to incorrectly manage its memory allocations in a way that memory which is no longer needed is not released. A memory leak may also happen when an object is stored in memory but cannot be accessed by the executed code.

Some updates about CERT-In

The CERT-In has been in the news over the past couple of months due to the issuance of new cybersecurity directives on April 28 which are applicable for service providers, intermediaries, body corporates, data centers and government organizations. The new directions are listed below.

  • Report incidents within 6 hours: All entities must mandatorily report cyber incidents to CERT-In within 6 hours of noticing such incidents or being brought to notice about such incidents.
  • Crypto exchanges and wallets must maintain KYC details and records of financial transactions for five years: Virtual asset service providers, virtual asset exchange providers and custodian wallet providers should mandatorily maintain all information obtained as part of Know Your Customer (KYC) and records of financial transactions for a period of five years.
  • Service providers must maintain information on customers and subscribers for five years: Data Centres, Virtual Private Server (VPS) providers, cloud service providers and Virtual Private Network Service (VPN Service) providers, are required to register the following accurate information about customers and subscribers for a period of 5 years or longer duration after any cancellation or withdrawal of the registration.
  • Maintain logs for 180 days in India: All entities must mandatorily enable logs of all their ICT systems and maintain them securely for a rolling period of 180 days and the same should be maintained within the Indian jurisdiction.
  • Synchronisation of clocks: All covered entities must connect to the Network Time Protocol (NTP) Server of the National Informatics Centre or the National Physical Laboratory or to servers traceable to these NTP servers for synchronisation of all their information and communications technology systems clocks.
  • CERT-In can order actions and demand information: For the purposes of cyber incident response, protective and preventive actions related to cyber incidents, CERT-In can issue orders to entities mandating them to take action or provide information that may be of assistance to CERT-In.
  • Point of contact: Entities are required to designate a Point of Contact to interface with CERT-In.

On June 21, a group representing small and medium scale enterprises reached out to CERT-In and its parent the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) asking for an extension on the time given to comply with the latter’s cybersecurity directions to 300 days, clarity on how CERT-IN would secure data it has collected, its data logging requirement, and so on.

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