Free tool battles Microsoft Office exploits in email

Technology in Microsoft Office 2007 to help block zero-day exploits in Office 2003.

Microsoft Office 2007 technology will be included in a free tool to battle zero-day exploits in Office 2003 email attachments.

It is called the Microsoft Office Isolated Conversion Environment (MOICE), and it converts older Microsoft Office 2003 documents from "untrusted" sources into Office 2007 formats, said David LeBlanc, a senior security technologist in Microsoft's Information Technology Group, in a MSDN blog posting. The converter in Microsoft Office 2003 can be used to read the new format, he said.

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MOICE will be available as a free download in a matter of weeks at the Microsoft Connect Web site, LeBlanc said.

MOICE works like this: As files arrive at a network, they are isolated so they can't attack any part of the network. Once any security issue has been removed from the file, it can be opened like any other file in Open XML in Office 2003.

Over the last year there has been an increase in Microsoft Office documents such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint arriving in emails that once opened, can be remotely executed by hackers.

In this month's Patch Tuesday release alone Microsoft included three updates that fixed seven vulnerabilities that could allow remote code executions in Office applications such as Excel and Word.

MOICE should be a boon to IT administrators who are struggling with a huge increase in remote code exploits in emails with attachments of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

Russell Moss, a systems administrator for the Mississippi Department of Corrections in Jackson, Miss., said he sees any free security technology as a help to inadequately staffed IT departments that must operate around the clock.

In fact, better security features are what led him to begin a migration to Exchange Server 2007, Moss said, because one of the roles it offers is Edge Transport server. That role handles all incoming email from the Internet and includes agents that protect against viruses and spam.

One drawback in MOICE will be a performance penalty, Microsoft's LeBlanc said. The additional time needed to convert old files to the new format and then reconvert them to be read by the old program will slow performance. The tradeoff is better security, LeBlanc said.

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