With this month's Patch Tuesday round of security fixes, Microsoft has ended its support for the Windows Server 2003 operating system.
"For anyone who still runs Windows 2003, I hope it is where no one can access it, and they are working on a project to replace those servers," said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer for IT security firm Qualys.
For July, Microsoft issued 14 bulletins, covering a total of 58 vulnerabilities.
The patches cover three critical holes in Microsoft Windows, in both the server and desktop editions, as well as one critical vulnerability in Internet Explorer, versions 7 through 11.
Administrators should apply these critical patches as quickly as possibly, because the vulnerabilities are already being used by attackers to gain entry into systems.
The remaining patches, deemed by Microsoft as important but not critical, address additional vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office and SQL Server, as well as additional vulnerabilities in Windows.
Overall, this is a fairly heavy month of patches, Kandek said.
Part of the reason for the relatively large number of patches may be the recent breach of Italian IT security firm Hacking Team. It exposed information about a number of critical vulnerabilities that the company had kept to itself, presumably for use in its Galileo remote machine surveillance software.
At least one of the bulletins this month, MS15-065, for Internet Explorer, contains a fix for the critical vulnerability unearthed in the Hacking Team attack.
As soon as possible, administrators should also tend to the critical patches Adobe has issued for its Flash software, which also came about due to the Hacking Team incident, Kandek said.
Nine of the 14 bulletins are applicable to Windows Server 2003, including the critical MS15-066, which could allow an attacker to gain control of a machine by tricking the user into visiting a maliciously crafted Web site.
After this month, Microsoft will not issue security patches for Windows Server 2003, as the company's timeline for supporting the OS has ended.
Continuing to run Windows Server 2003 will be dangerous in terms of security, especially for servers connected to the Internet, because new vulnerabilities will probably continue to be found and exploited by attackers, Kandek said.
In fact, Windows Server 2003 will become even more vulnerable than before, given that attackers can identify weak spots by analyzing patches for newer editions of the OS, which probably have at least some of the same code as Windows Server 2003.
Another unusual patch in this month's load is MS15-058, which fixes a number of vulnerabilities in SQL Server. This patch was originally scheduled for last month but was held at the last minute, presumably for additional testing.
Major security fixes to SQL Server are relatively infrequent, and this one is not of a critical nature, assuming that users adhered to best practices when they installed the database software, said Amol Sarwate, Qualys director of engineering.
In order to harness this vulnerability for illicit purposes, the user has to have the permissions to manipulate a database schema and alter its tables. Most organizations will just delegate a single administrator account to make changes to the database and not grant these permissions to all users.
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