Seventeen high-risk vulnerabilities out of the 276 flaws fixed by Oracle Tuesday affect products from third-party software vendors, including Microsoft.
The vulnerabilities were found by researchers from Cisco's Talos team and are located in the Oracle Outside In Technology (OIT), a collection of software development kits (SDKs) that can be used to extract, normalize, scrub, convert and view some 600 unstructured file formats.
These SDKs, which are part of the Oracle Fusion Middleware, are licensed to other software developers who then use them in their own products. Such products include Microsoft Exchange, Novell Groupwise, IBM WebSphere Portal, Google Search Appliance, Avira AntiVir for Exchange, Raytheon SureView, Guidance Encase and Veritas Enterprise Vault.
It's not clear how many of those products are also affected by the newly patched seventeen flaws, because some of them might not use all of the vulnerable SDKs or might include other limiting factors.
Oracle assigned a score of 8.6 in the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to the flaws, which means a high severity rating. However, the score was calculated on the assumption that the affected software passes data received over a network directly to the vulnerable OIT code, which might not happen in all cases.
Where this is true, attackers can exploit the flaws to execute rogue code on systems by sending specifically crafted content to applications using the vulnerable OIT SDKs.
The Cisco researchers confirmed that Microsoft Exchange servers (version 2013 and earlier) are affected if they have the WebReady Document Viewing enabled. According to Microsoft documentation, this feature lets users view common file types like .doc, .pdf, .ppt and .xls directly in the Outlook Web App web browser.
"An attacker could exploit these vulnerabilities by sending a malicious email attachment to a victim who then opens the email using web preview," the Cisco Talos researchers said in a blog post. "Further, if Data Loss Prevention is enabled, the vulnerability can be triggered simply by sending an email with a malicious attachment outbound from the affected Exchange server."
If a Microsoft Exchange server also has the Avira AntiVir for Exchange installed, the vulnerabilities can be exploited by simply sending a specially crafted email without the victim even opening it. That's because this antivirus program also uses the vulnerable OIT SDKs and scans all incoming and outgoing email automatically.
File formats can be very complex and processing them without proper validation has historically been a source of remote code execution vulnerabilities in all sorts of applications. Understandably, many software developers rely on third-party SDKs and libraries for parsing file and data formats, instead of implementing such functionality themselves, a task that would be time consuming and prone to error.
"However, the unfortunate reality is that vulnerabilities that are found in an SDK that is utilized by third-parties will take additional time to patch: First the organization that maintains the SDK issues a fix, and some amount of time later, third-parties that utilize the SDK provide an update to their customers including these fixes," the Cisco researchers said. "This provides a rather large window of time in which miscreants can exploit vulnerabilities in third-party products."
At a time when over 80 percent of any new software application consists of third-party code, tracking vulnerabilities in outside libraries is very important. Unfortunately, studies show that many software developers not only fail at this task, but don't even have a clear picture of which third-party components they used in which of their applications.