Office Software Vulnerability:  How It Works and How to Protect Your PC

If you are using an office productivity suite such as Microsoft Office that include applications such as spreadsheets, word processors, email clients, and other tools that perform office related tasks, this type of software can contain vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities are security holes in the software that hackers can exploit to attack you PC's operating system, as well as other applications that are installed in your PC.

How Hackers Exploit Office Software Vulnerabilities

If there is a vulnerability in your office productivity suite, hackers can exploit the hole and insert malicious files such as rootkits, keyboard loggers, spyware, Trojans, and any other related type of file with malicious intent. A few of the methods they use to accomplish an attack are as follows:

  • Email Attachments: The hacker creates an email attachment containing malicious files that looks like it is sent by someone who is known by the recipient. When the recipient opens the email attachment, it automatically downloads malware that exploits the security hole in the office productivity suite.
  • RSS Feed Hijacks: RSS feeds are news feeds that can be automatically sent to your email upon your request. An RSS feed is not unsolicited; rather it is information that you receive after volunteering your email address. A hacker can hijack an RSS feed for the purpose of sending information with malicious files to the RSS recipient. They accomplish this by running a news server or by simply hijacking the feed.
  • Web Servers and Shared Folders: Hackers often use Web servers and shared folders to store malicious files. These files can be integrated into a Web page or shared folder. The hacker sends an email to the recipient that looks like it is from someone they know, and encourages them to visit a Web page or shared folder. Once the recipient clicks, the malicious file exploits the security hole in the office productivity suite and then installs malware.

How to Protect Your PC

Applications such as Microsoft Office have reported a number of vulnerabilities in the past where the security hole was exploited before a patch became available. Although this is difficult to circumvent, make sure you update with the latest patch as soon as it becomes available.

Other safety measures you can take include:

  • Configure Internet Explorer: If the browser you use is Internet Explorer, it contains a setting that allows Office documents to open automatically. Make sure you disable this setting so you can open the documents manually.
  • Configure Office Settings: Most office productivity suites include security settings. Sometimes the default settings do not provide the highest security protection so you should configure the settings to provide enhanced protection.
  • Intrusion Detection: If your PC is on a network, make sure the organization employs a firewall and Intrusion Detection System along with a an antivirus, anti-malware program. This will prevent the exploit form reaching PC users on the network.
  • Email and Web Filters: Network security applications should include email and Web filters that are capable of preventing malicious files from reaching the office productivity suites in PCs on the network.
  • Use Good Judgment: Take precautions when clicking on links while surfing the Internet and use good judgment when opening email attachments. Although they may appear to be from someone you know you are better off asking them if they sent an attachment before opening it.
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You can protect your computer from viruses without expensive software. Instead, follow these simple tips:

Stay up-to-date on all system updates.

Don't download any email attachments you weren't expecting.

Avoid freeware and peer-to-peer sharing sites.

Use alternative web browsers and email software.