- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

Microsoft's newest version of Windows, billed as the most secure ever, contains several serious flaws that allow hackers to steal or destroy a victim's data files across the Internet or implant rogue computer software. The company released a free fix yesterday.
A Microsoft official acknowledged that the risk to consumers was unprecedented because the glitches allow hackers to seize control of all Windows XP operating-system software without requiring a computer user to do anything except connect to the Internet.
Microsoft made available on its Web site a free fix for both home and professional editions of Windows XP and strongly urged consumers to install it immediately.
The flaws, discovered five weeks ago by independent security researchers, threatened to undermine widespread adoption of Microsoft's latest Windows software, which many hope will be an economic catalyst for the sagging technology industry.
The company sold more than 7 million copies of Windows XP in the two weeks after it arrived in stores Oct. 25.
The vulnerabilities were discovered by three young security researchers with EEye Digital Security Inc. of Aliso Viejo, Calif., led by Marc Maiffret, a 21-year-old former hacker. In recent months, Mr. Maiffret, who calls himself the firm's "chief hacking officer," has advised the FBI and the White House on Internet security questions and testified before Congress.
The Windows XP problems affect a little-used feature that eventually will allow consumers to control high-tech household appliances using their computers. Called "universal plug and play," the feature is activated by design in every copy of Windows XP and can be added manually to Microsoft's earlier Windows ME software, also used by millions of consumers worldwide.
"This is the first network-based, remote compromise that I'm aware of for Windows desktop systems," said Scott Culp, manager of Microsoft's security-response center. "Every Windows XP user needs to immediately take action." He called it a "very serious vulnerability."
Microsoft said a new feature of Windows XP, known as "drizzle," can automatically download the free fix, which takes several minutes to download, and prompt consumers to install it. Microsoft also is working with other software companies, such as leading anti-virus vendors, to build protection into their products.
Mr. Maiffret and his researchers demonstrated the flaws for the Associated Press by hacking into a reporter's laptop running Windows XP from 2,300 miles away and instructing it to connect to the Na-tional Security Agency Web site.
has used these flaws to break into any computers; Mr. Maiffret predicted that many hackers will be able to duplicate his firm's research and begin breaking into unprotected computers "a couple months from now."
Microsoft feared that hackers could exploit the flaws more quickly if EEye discloses too many details about its findings. Leading up to the public announcement, Mr. Culp said, those researchers behaved "exactly right" by quietly notifying Microsoft.

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