What to Do About
Office Documents"> The only reasonable approach for Microsoft to take is to create a new, improved file format, and it has done just that with Office 2007. The new files are zipped XML files (although, ironically, the link is to a .DOC file). Of course its possible, perhaps even likely, that they have their own vulnerabilities, but these will have been created in an era when people care about secure development Unfortunately, there are a lot of .DOC and .XLS files out there in the world. What to do? At the same time Microsoft would obviously like for everyone to upgrade to Office 2007, but moving users to the new formats is important to the company, even at the cost of making old versions tolerable for a few more years. Thus, it released the Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats. This allows Office XP and Office 2003 to open Office 2007 documents and for Office 2000 to convert them.One common argumentIve made it myselfis that we need to rely on anti-virus to detect Office files with vulnerability exploits in them. AV programs are scanning the file anyway and they have an understanding of the file formats in order to look for malware written in them, so perhaps they should find the exploits. They do try, but how well do they do? Andreas Marx of AV-Test, as reported in PC-Welt, tested AV protection against known (patched) and new (zero-day, unpatched) MS Office exploits (DOC, XLS, PPT and MDB). The article is in German, but its pretty easy to read: The table shows the name of the product, the number detected, the detection percentage, the number missed and the percentage missed. Click here to read the call of the U.S. cyber-security czar. I have to say the results are not good enough. Andreas argues that this shows that Microsoft needs to patch more quickly, and of course the faster it patches the better, but I think what it shows is how deep the hole we are in is. Microsoft cant patch these holes fast enough. It can only throw the old formats overboard and sail as far and as fast as it can.
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This is just about all Microsoft could do, at least in the big picture. Its hard to push users off of a file format thats so popular, even among other companies products. But the company has to do what it can, because indications are that the vulnerabilities will keep coming and Microsoft will have to patch them and a continuing crisis will characterize the next couple of years.