December's Patch Tuesday brought seven bulletins from Microsoft, five of which cover critical security vulnerabilities.
A critical update for MS Word (MS12-079) is rated by security watchers as the most important of the batch. A flaw in Rich Text Format (RTF) processing poses a severe risk because Microsoft Outlook automatically displays the malicious text in the Preview Pane - without requiring user interaction.
Another critical update (MS12-077) tackles security bugs in Internet Explorer 9 and 10, and creates a risk of drive-by download attacks involving tricking users into visiting websites contaminated with malicious code.
A further critical update fixes a vulnerability in Windows file-handling component while the remaining items on the critical list grapple with vulnerabilities in Windows kernel-mode drivers involving font handling and security bugs in Microsoft Exchange, arising from the inclusion of buggy versions of Oracle Outside In file conversion software.
Trustwave SpiderLabs has written a blog post comparing this week's patch batch to different brands of beer. IE updates are compared to Guinness Draught while the remote code execution in kernel-mode drivers is racked alongside 120 Minute IPA.
Microsoft also used Patch Tuesday to publish a new whitepaper on defensive techniques against "Pass the Hash" attacks. "Pass the Hash" is a technique used by attackers after the initial exploit, in which they use the stored password hashes to gain access to other machines in a local network. Such stepping stone attacks are standard network hacking practice, so defending against them using better configuration practices makes a lot of sense.
The seven bulletins in December bring the total count for 2012 to 83, a significant reduction on the 100 bulletins in 2011 and even more from the 2010 count, which ended with 106 bulletins.
Adobe recently began co-ordinating its security patch releases with Microsoft's output. Tuesday offered security updates to Adobe ColdFusion 10 (and earlier) and Flash Player. The Flash update is configuration dependent, but can be critical, while the Cold Fusion security patch is given the lower status of "important". ®