05 Jan 2008

Redmond Does it Again

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As Computerworld observes, those geniuses up in Redmond have taken another giant step toward persuading their customers not to trust them.

Microsoft Corp. deliberately broke access to older files, including many generated by its own products, to step up security with the newest Office 2003 service pack, a company evangelist said yesterday.

The months-old Service Pack 3 (SP3) for Office 2003, said Viral Tarpara, a U.K.-based IT evangelist for Microsoft, blocks old file formats for security purposes. “Some older file formats, including some from Microsoft, are insecure and do not satisfy new attack vectors that hackers can use to execute malicious code,” maintained Tarpara. “The decision to block the formats is strictly to protect your machine from being compromised.”

Office 2003 SP3 was released in September, and questions about file access error messages began appearing almost immediately on Microsoft’s support forums.

Those questions continued into December. A user identified as “dberwanger” complained that he called Microsoft’s support desk, but was told it would cost $250 to “fix a problem with SP3 that they created. Finally completely uninstalled Word 2003 and reinstalled (because you cannot just uninstall SP3) and the problem is fixed.”

Microsoft has posted a document to its support database that includes a Windows registry hack that returns full file format access to Office 2003. Like Tarpara, the document claimed that the file blocking was done for security reasons. “These file formats are blocked because they are less secure. They may pose a risk to you,” according to the document.

Among the blocked files are older Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats, as well as older formats used by Lotus 1-2-3 and Corel Corp.’s Quattro Pro — a pair of ancient and aging spreadsheets — and Corel Draw, an illustration program. Word 2003 with SP3, in fact, blocks a staggering 24 former formats, according to Microsoft, including the default word processing file format for Office 2004 for Mac, the currently available edition of Microsoft’s application suite for Mac OS X.

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