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Microsoft Releases Stopgap Fix for Flawed IE Patch

Automated workaround replaces manual Windows Registry reset, which elicits mixed response from security experts.

To end a busy week where Microsoft scrambled to respond to complaints about a faulty patch for Internet Explorer, the software giant said Friday it released an automated workaround to solve the glitch.

Security experts have mixed feelings about the workaround. On one hand, they commend the speedy remedy issued by Redmond, which IT pros hope will keep them from getting locked out of IE after a reinstall. Conversely, some wonder why a whole new patch wasn't issued to correct what happened last week to those who installed the cumulative fix for the application included in the December patch rollout.

According to Microsoft Security Response spokesman Bill Sisk, the fix mostly revolves around Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and the accompanying IE version 6, even though Security Bulletin MS07-069 was an all-encompassing update for all versions of the browser.

The latest workaround, released two days after Microsoft issued a manual workaround, requires users to change Windows Registry settings. This means essentially tweaking the master directory for the operating system that contains configuration information for all the hardware, OS software and related applications. For instance, when a user updates the control panel, system files or installed software, the changes are replicated and stored in the registry.

As of Friday, Redmond said it still has not ruled out issuing a hotfix to ensure that security administrators have no problems implementing the workaround.

Paul Zimski, senior director of market strategy at Lumension Security, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based consultancy that makes PatchLink, said the issue is large scale because IE 6, the browser edition most prominently affected by the problem, is also the most popular and most widely used version of the OS-based Web application. In that vein, he cautioned that the workaround is only temporary.

Given the fact that enterprise technologists sometimes just install patches and jump right back into production without testing -- because that’s what they do every month -- Zimski said it's important for security administrators to evaluate immediate needs, which may or may not include installing a patch right away.

"Anytime you get involved with patching, you're dealing with potential pitfalls," added Zimski. "And when vendors such as Microsoft are up against tight deadlines, things can be missed even though patches are usually pretty safe."

About the Author

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

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