PowerPoint security bug found in Office 2003

A new zero-day remote code execution vulnerability has come to light, this time affecting Microsoft Office PowerPoint.

The software giant has issued a security advisory about the potential exploit, which affects older Microsoft Office versions up through Office 2003. The current flagship Office 2007 product is not vulnerable.

Microsoft said it is only "aware of limited and targeted attacks that attempt to use this vulnerability." Users with fewer administrative rights could be less affected than those who have superuser or carte blanche access to enterprise systems, according to Redmond.

The attacks are triggered by getting users to click on a malicious Office file, either on a Web site or via an e-mail attachment, triggering malware on the user's workstation. To avoid such attacks, IT shops should have "untrusted software" policies in place, said Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst at Lumension.

"This incident highlights the added value of application control in automatically affording protection by preventing any untrusted software," Henry said. "This [untrusted software] is software that is not explicitly permitted by policy and has been downloaded via the Internet, transferred via a USB stick or installed from a CD/DVD." The policy would prevent untrusted software from executing on a user's PC, he added.

The PowerPoint flaw was considered "extremely critical" in a separate advisory issued on Friday by Secunia, a Denmark-based vulnerability research shop.  

As a workaround, Redmond suggested that IT shops can modify the FileBlock policy in the registry to block the opening of untrusted Office 2003, and older, binary files. They can also use the Microsoft Office isolated conversion environment. This update works with Office 2003 and Office 2007 products to "more securely open Word, Excel and PowerPoint binary file formats," according to Microsoft. 

Microsoft provides additional technical details on the PowerPoint vulnerability in its Microsoft Malware Protection Center and Microsoft Security Research & Defense blogs.

Microsoft plans to "continue to monitor the situation and post updates as we become aware of any important new information," according to the advisorys.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is a journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.

Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 7, 2009 Eirik Iverson Chantilly Virginia

Federal organizations and their contractors need to upgrade their security over their PCs. Traditional anti-virus/spyware software is inadequate for today's threats, and Host intrusion prevention system (HIPS) software are too complex to be utilized well. Symantec and McAfee are very expensive and bloated. Superior alternatives exist. Some organizations only need more protection, others need more protection and more control/audit. Some organizations need it as a managed security service, others need to do it themselves. Google these keywords to start solving your organizations needs: edgeguard, appguard, managed edgeguard, protection, control

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above