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Microsoft slammed by its own product's vulnerability

By Paul Roberts, IDG News Service
January 28, 2003 01:29 PM ET

IDG News Service - Microsoft fell victim to a software vulnerability in one of its own products on Saturday, when the W32.Slammer worm infested host machines on the Redmond, Wash., company's network, flooding that network with traffic.

The company's travails with Slammer late Friday night and Saturday morning were first revealed through internal e-mail messages obtained by news agencies and reported on Monday.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed that the Slammer worm penetrated the company's network defenses and infected a number of SQL Server databases and desktop machines.

"There were circumstances where we were not patched," said Rick Miller, a spokesman for Microsoft.

The vulnerable machines were mostly in the company's Redmond campus and concentrated in an area of Microsoft's network used by SQL Server developers, according to Miller.

In some cases, the vulnerable machines were purposely left unpatched to try to recreate specific environments for testing purposes, Miller said.

Miller said that "a high percentage" of the SQL Server hosts used by customers were properly patched and unaffected by Slammer.

Slammer temporarily interrupted the company's Windows XP activation service, but the activation server was not vulnerable. Instead, the service was brought down by a flood of Slammer-related traffic from hosts on the same subnet, Miller said.

Given the size of the company, security experts weren't surprised that some machines on Microsoft's network were vulnerable.

"It's not surprising when you consider that most people working at Microsoft are (software) developers and that a lot of development software installs MSDE (Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine)," said David Litchfield, managing director of Next Generation Security Software Ltd. and the person who discovered the SQL Server vulnerability exploited by Slammer.

Miller confirmed that infections linked to the MSDE component were a part of the company's problem, but declined to say how many servers and desktops were affected or how much of the problem stemmed from desktops with MSDE installed.

Many have taken Microsoft's inability to properly patch SQL Servers on its own network as proof that the current system of releasing software patches is flawed.

"I do feel it's an unreal expectation to think that system administrators can monitor multiple applications and apply patches to them that vary from implementation to implementation," said Geoff Shively, chief hacking officer of PivX Solutions LLC.

The volume of software patches from Microsoft and other software vendors and the need to test patches before deploying them combine to overwhelm system administrators, leaving them to take their chances with a new worm or virus. That makes companies like Microsoft vulnerable, Shively said.

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