What About Windows 98

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-02-20 Print this article Print

? Theres an interesting sidebar to this problem: Microsofts advisory mentions only Windows NT and descendent products, not Win9x. But others have shown that vulnerable ASN.1 code is present on Windows 9x systems.
Reports to the Bugtraq mailing list have indicated that Microsoft has a fix for Windows 98 (and, presumably, for Windows ME, although I havent seen it mentioned). However, its only available if you have a current support contract for Windows 98 and request the patch from Microsoft through official channels.

Microsoft confirmed this claim. According to Matt Pilla, senior product manager in the Windows Client group, the "patch for the ASN.1 vulnerability is available through Microsoft Product Support Services for Windows 98 customers. We continuously evaluate our product update distribution policies in order to best meet the needs of our customers."

Now, this approach to the ASN.1 problem is troublesome. Now, I understand that Microsoft doesnt want people to be using Window 98—and from a security standpoint, neither do I—and the company doesnt want to encourage these customers with the hint of support. Yet if Microsoft wants to prevent exploits of this particular vulnerability from gaining any traction in the world and stop ASN.1 from becoming a continuous problem—like too many others before it—then the company needs to get patches out quickly to as many vulnerable systems as possible. There are still a lot of Windows 98 systems in operation. As evidence, some 24 percent of the systems used to access Google in January were from Windows 98 machines. No doubt, a very large number of them are vulnerable to a ASN.1 attack.

Check out eWEEK.coms Windows Center at http:windows.eweek.com for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis. When I first heard of the ASN.1 vulnerability, I worried we would relive Blaster all over again. But now, even with the Windows 98 problems, Im less pessimistic. As Dunham said, corporate administrators know by now that prompt patching, at least at the perimeter of the network, is an urgent matter at times like this. In addition, its likely that there are few unpatched corporate networks to attack. Then again, there will still be many unpatched machines in consumer hands, and an attack will spread there. Still, as each day goes by, the likelihood that ASN.1 will be a serious threat goes down.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Be sure to check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at http://security.eweek.com for the latest security news, views and analysis.

More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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