Microsoft's Patch Tuesday Focuses on Critical RDP Patch

Microsoft's Patch Tuesday for March 2012 features six bulletins, including one rated "critical" that focuses on a RDP vulnerability.

Microsoft€™s March 2012 Patch Tuesday might be light on actual bulletins€”there are six€”but security researchers are nonetheless advising companies to fix the "critical" one posthaste.

That critical bulletin, MS12-020 (Windows) addresses an issue in Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). While Microsoft insisted in a March 13 posting on the Microsoft Security Response Center blog that €œwe know of no active exploitation in the wild,€ it also advised that €œcustomers examine and prepare to apply this bulletin as soon as possible.€ As it stands, the vulnerability allows an attacker to achieve remote-code execution; Microsoft is offering a one-click, no-reboot fix-it €œthat enables Network-Level Authentication, an effective mitigation for this issue.€

Of the five other bulletins, two are rated €œimportant€ and relate to Expression Design (MS12-022) and Visual Studio (MS12-018). Two other important ones apply to different configurations of Windows and Windows Server, and focus on Kernel (MS12-018) and Domain Name System (DNS) (MS12-017). The last, rated €œmoderate,€ deals with DirectWrite (MS12-019).

But outside analysts hammered home Microsoft€™s point about the urgency in patching the RDP vulnerability.

€œLast fall we saw the RDP worm Morto attacking publicly exposed Remote Desktop services across businesses of all sizes with brute-force password guessing,€ Kurt Baumgartner, senior security researcher for Kaspersky Lab, wrote in a March 13 posting on Securelist. €œThe Morto worm incident brought attention to poorly secured RDP services. Accordingly, this Remote Desktop vulnerability must be patched immediately.€

Unfortunately, he added, most companies fail to sufficiently secure their RDP services. €œIt seems to me that every time a small and medium-sized organization runs a network, the employees or members expect remote access,€ he wrote. €œIn turn, this Remote Desktop service is frequently exposed to public networks with lazy, no-VPN or restricted communications at these sized organizations.€

Instead, he advised, €œRDP best practices should be followed requiring strong authentication credentials and compartmentalized, restricted network access.€

Other analysts agreed with that assessment. €œThis patch should be your highest priority if you use RDP,€ wrote Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst at Lumension, in reference to MS12-020.

Organizations should disable RDP when not needed, added Marcus Carey, security researcher at Rapid7. €œOrganizations should also apply appropriate ingress firewall rules where they can,€ he wrote. €œOrganizations should be ready to test and deploy the patch as soon as possible. RDP is not enabled by default, but many times it is turned on for administration tasks and just left enabled.€

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