The Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

The Center for Education and Research in
Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)

Irony and DHS


[tags]DHS,MS Word,threats[/tags]
Earlier, I wrote about the security risks of using Microsoft Word documents as a presentation and encoding format for sending files via email (see posts here and here).  Files in “.doc” format contain macros, among other things, that could be executable.  They also have metadata fields that might give away sensitive information, and a lot of undocumented cruft that may be used in the process of exploiting security.  It is no wonder that exotic exploits are showing up for Word documents.  And only today it was revealed that the latest version of Office 2007 may not have even gotten the most recent patch set.

Want to find some vulnerabilities in Word?  Then take a look at the list of US-CERT alerts on that software; my search returns almost 400 hits.  Some of these are not yet patched, and there are likely many as-yet unpatched flaws still in there.

Clearly, the use of Word as a document exchange medium is Bad (that’s with a definite capital B).  People who understand good security practices do not exchange Word files unless they are doing collaborative editing, and even then it is better to use RTF (if one continues to be beholden to Microsoft formats).  Good security hygiene means warning others, and setting a good example.

Now, consider that DHS has released BAA07-09 to solicit research and prototypes to get fixes for current cyber infrastructure vulnerabilities.  I could rant about how they claim it is for R&D but is really a BAA for further product development for fundamentally flawed software that cannot be fixed.  But that isn’t the worst part.  No, the BAA is only available as Word documents!

Can you say “irony”?  This is the agency charged with helping guide us to a more secure infrastructure?  If so, electronically KYAG.

Update: A response from Dr. Douglas Maughn at DHS points out that the site I indicated for the BAA is actually FedBizOps rather than DHS.  The DHS posting site actually has it in PDF…although the FedBizOps link is the one I’ve seen in several articles (and in a posting in SANS NewsBites).

Of course, it would be great if DHS could get the folks at FedBizOps to clean up their act, but at least in this case, DHS—or rather, DHSARPA—got it right.  I stand corrected.


Posted by Ryan
on Thursday, June 14, 2007 at 04:20 AM

Umm… PDF in its current form is NOT a solution to this problem. PDFs can containg JavaScript, which is enabled by default on recent versions of Adobe’s reader. There is also potentially metadata galore in PDFs created with more recent versions of Acrobat Professional.

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