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Warning to Win 98 & MS Office 97 Users

Grant Hersey
01-02-2004

Microsoft has announced that it will stop supporting Windows 98. This means that millions of users will soon be left exposed as hackers discover and exploit vulnerabilities in these products.



When Microsoft ceased supporting Office 97, hackers had a field day exploiting vulnerabilities in Office products like Word 97. Unfortunately, hacking will become commonplace when support for Windows 98 ceases. The Word 97 problem was due to a security flaw in all Word editions. Microsoft fixed this problem in their later editions (Word 2000 and Word XP), but this was not repaired in Word 97.



Users who wish to pay a premium can still receive support from Microsoft for Win98 and have their security flaws fixed. However, this option will not be viable for the majority of users of Windows 98.



An independent research company estimates that over 30% of computer users use Win98 and a slightly higher percentage use Office 97. An attacker only has to place hidden codes in a Word document, which is sent to a would-be victim with a request for a response. If the recipient has Word 97 and revises the Word document, any file sought by the attacker will be hidden inside the Word document and sent back to the attacker as in the case below:



CASE 1

We were called to investigate an unusually slow network plus slow individual computers.



The office consisted of 6 users all using multiple Windows versions ranging from Win 98 – XP. The older PC had become infected with a virus, which was hidden within a Word 97 document. This in turn infected other Word versions within the office. The virus grabbed documents at random and then emailed them out to an unknown number of clients, requesting the recipient to comment on the documents sent. The first time the owner became aware of this situation was when one of their clients phoned them to comment on the company’s business plan, saying he thought that the owner and his wife earned too much money from the business. This was extremely embarrassing for the owner.



As Windows 98 loses Microsoft support, PC users will have to make some choices such as:



Upgrade the current system.

Issue: Hardware may not be compatible with the new operating system.



Purchase a new PC with a new operating system.

Issue: Any current software programmes you are using (eg accounting packages etc) may not be compatible with the new operating system and therefore would also need to be upgraded if a new PC is purchased.



Third Party Protection Programmes eg Firewalls.

Issue: There is a general lack of understanding regarding Firewall Protection where it is up to the user to block or allow information to flow through to your PC. This inevitably leads to the wrong choices beingmade, leaving you vulnerable to attacks from hackers.





If you feel any of these issues relate to you and you would like professional advice on your level of vulnerability and a plan of how to maintain a safe computer network please contact us to discuss our range of IT auditing and support services.

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