Three business days prior to the regularly scheduled release of security notifications and updates to products, the company will release an advance notification that provides minimal details designed to help customers plan for the deployment of updates. Links to the information will be posted on the Technet Security page.
The November disclosure discusses a single fix affecting Microsoft ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server. It rates the severity of the bug it fixes as "important" rather than the more serious "critical," and says the update may require a restart of the server.
Finally, it notes that this information may change before it is fully disclosed because testing of the fix may still be progressing.
The network administrator for one Microsoft customer—the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism—said the new policy will help improve the base of secured computers.
"As a member of the Microsoft Essential Support program, we receive regular, and sometimes early, information from Microsoft regarding security issues," said Bernie Robichau, the South Carolina departments network administrator and security officer. "As a result, we have learned that more communication is always better.
"Some recent Microsoft vulnerabilities pose a great risk, and it often takes a few days of deliberate planning to assure proper patch distribution—especially when a vulnerability affects more than one product [which was the case with the recent GDI JPG vulnerabilities]," Robichau said.
"Anything Microsoft can do to inform users about a pending patch release will only help improve the base of secured computers when a vulnerability is exploited and starts to spread," he said. "Offering this service to all users will be a welcome addition to the Microsoft security strategy, Im sure."
Tom Stachowiak, a Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2) beta tester, also welcomed the advance notice.
"I think this is great thing. The people that take their security seriously will be able to prepare their systems and their users for downtime ahead of time," Stachowiak said.
"This could save tons of time, as possible implications could be looked for in terms of compatible firewall adjustment."
The new policy was announced in a keynote address at the RSA Conference Europe by Rich Kaplan, corporate vice president of Microsofts security business and technology unit.
In December, the company will provide a way for customers to sign up to receive advance bulletin notifications via e-mail.
Editors Note: Mary Jo Foley of Microsoft Watch provided additional reporting for this story.