Microsoft today said it will issue 12 security updates next week, including two for Internet Explorer (IE), that will patch a near-record 57 vulnerabilities in the browser, Windows, Office and the enterprise-critical Exchange Server email software.
"These are some serious numbers," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle, referring to the 57 bugs Microsoft plans to quash Feb. 12.
And they're nearly a record, coming close to the all-time Patch Tuesday tally of 64 flaws, all patched with fixes in April 2011.
Five of the 12 updates will be pegged as "critical," Microsoft's highest threat rating, while the remainder will be labeled "important," the next step below critical.
Two of the five critical updates will address vulnerabilities in Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) and Windows Vista. Among the important updates, five will affect Windows 7, four Windows 8, and three each for XP SP3 and Windows RT. The latter is the limited-functionality edition designed for tablets, and the one that powers Microsoft's own Surface RT tablet.
But what caught Storms' eye were the two separate updates for IE, both tagged as critical, that will patch IE6, IE7, IE8, IE9 and the latest browser, IE10.
"This is the first time I've seen them do this," said Storms of the one-two punch. "Unless there's been an 'out-of-band' update for IE, they've never released more than one update [for the browser] in a month."
Storms struggled to come up with ideas why Microsoft split what could have been one, albeit larger, update. "Why not just a cumulative update for IE?" he asked. "I certainly expect to see an interesting blog post next week with some long, convoluted explanation."
The most likely place where Microsoft would offer insight into why it crafted two IE updates is its Security Research & Defense blog, which regularly posts entries about complex or unusual updates from that month's Patch Tuesday.
The IE double-whammy could help enterprises manage patching next week. Or it could hurt them. "I can see it both ways," Storms said. "It may be more difficult because you have to test two updates. But it's also possible that they split them because one has more risk than the other." In the latter instance, enterprises will have more flexibility than usual, he said, and will be able to decide whether to apply only one, both or even neither.
"I can see that, but I still don't understand why they didn't put [all the patches] in one bulletin and wrap installation with some logic," said Storms. "[The only thing I can think of] is one bulletin is for the core of IE, and one is for something used by IE."
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