Four of the six security bulletins Microsoft will release on next week's Patch Tuesday are rated "critical" and will address vulnerabilities in everything from Windows 7 and Office 2010 to the .NET framework and Internet Explorer 9.
All four critical bulletins will patch remote code execution vulnerabilities. While Bulletins 1 through 3 all address exploits in Windows, the first and third also target those in Internet Explorer Versions 6 through 9 and the .NET framework, respectively. Bulletin 4, meanwhile, addresses critical vulnerabilities in SQL Server, developer tools Visual FoxPro and Visual Basic, and Office versions 2003 through 2010.
The remaining two patches were both rated "important" and address vulnerabilities in Office and Forefront United Access Gateway.
Qulays CTO Wolfgang Kandek says the Internet Explorer bulletin is likely to be treated with the most importance among users, "just because everyone uses the browser every day and knows that attacks today go against some browser vulnerabilities."
Meanwhile, nCircle Director of Security Operations Andrew Storms says Bulletin 4 will likely require the most work because, with such a broad range over SQL server, Office and developer tools, "IT security teams have to pause and think hard about deployment."
"It also requires some rigorous patch testing," Storms says.
Both researchers cited a relatively low volume of patches for the month. In April 2011, Microsoft released 17 bulletins, including nine that were rated critical. Storms pointed to the more balanced monthly approach for Microsoft this year, which strays from its prior habit of "dramatic swings in bulletin volume from month to month." From January through April 2012, Microsoft issued seven, six, nine and six bulletins, respectively. Through those same months of 2011, the company issued two, 12, three and 17 bulletins.
Altogether, Microsoft is well ahead of its 2011 pace for bulletins released, and is in good standing to match or even see a decrease from the 100 security bulletins it issued in all of last year, Kandek says. Through the first four months of 2012, Microsoft has issued 28 bulletins, down from the 34 issued in the same period last year.
Citing the release of patches for the Windows 7 64-bit operating system, which he called "the most hardened, best-prepared operating system in the Windows line," Kandek speculated that Microsoft may be attempting to cover its bases before potential exploits are publicly exposed by attackers.
"I think researchers are probably increasing their focus on these platforms now, and are still finding vulnerabilities even though they were designed with a much higher level of security in mind," Kandek says. "It just shows that in complex software such as an operating system or even the browser, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all vulnerabilities."
Especially considering last month's high-profile Patch Tuesday, the information for which was reportedly leaked to hackers in China before it was released to the public, some say a more proactive approach to patching and releasing information is a likely move for a company looking to bounce back from a bad month.
"After the Microsoft MAPP exploit proof-of-concept leak regarding MS12-020, I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft attempts to batten down the hatches on the amount of information they disclose prior to the monthly patch cycle," says Rapid7 security researcher Marcus Carey.
Colin Neagle covers Microsoft security and network management for Network World. Keep up with his blog: Rated Critical, follow him on Twitter: @ntwrkwrldneagle. Colin's email is email@example.com.
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