Published: Thu, June 29, 2017
Research | By Francis Brooks

Microsoft fixes security flaws in retired OS versions

Microsoft fixes security flaws in retired OS versions

Microsoft's June 2017 Patch Tuesday targeted 94 vulnerabilities, and for the second straight month included Windows XP fixes and patches for other unsupported systems in order to remediate flaws that could be exploited by leaked NSA cyberweapons.

Patches for these operating systems are rare since they both reached their end-of-life many years before, and Microsoft has officially stopped providing security updates for both OS versions.

The decision to release the update comes in the wake of the devastating WannaCry ransomware attack last month.

On Tuesday, Adrienne Hall, general manager of the cyber defence operations centre at Microsoft, said in a blog-post that the updates have been released to the elevated risk of "nation-state actors" organisations.

The three Windows exploits, reportedly built by National Security Agency, have been fixed in June's security update for the new Windows platforms as well as the old ones such as XP or Server 2003.

Automatic updates will be available for Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and Windows Server releases after 2008. According to analytics vendor Net Applications, 6% of all Windows PCs ran XP and 2% ran Windows 8 last month. "Some of them are pretty old", he said of the dozen vulnerabilities that Microsoft patched.

However, while Microsoft is once again patching these older operating systems, you shouldn't get used to this kind of special attention. It says that it should not be seen as a departure from Microsoft's servicing policies.

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Released in 2001, Microsoft ended support for XP in 2014, but it remained in wide use, including by organizations like the United States Navy, which paid $9 million for extended support. Some, not able to finish the job in time and unwilling (or unable) to expose unpatched systems to possible attacks, pay princely sums to Microsoft for after-retirement custom support.

EsteemAudit affects RDP, but only on XP and did not require a patch for modern versions of Windows.

The trouble is, though, that these moves give users and businesses out there still running with Windows XP some measure of confidence that Microsoft is still protecting them, in an albeit limited manner.

Tuesday's issuance of down-level patches is only the latest in a series of unusual events involving Microsoft's once-predictable security update regimen.

Stephen Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, said that it was a touch decision by the company to offer patches for unsupported versions of Windows.

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