March 2020 Patch Tuesday forecast: Let’s put the madness behind us

Did you survive the madness of February 2020 Patch Tuesday and its aftermath? We saw Windows 7 and Server 2008 finally move into extended security support and then Microsoft pulled a rare, standalone Windows 10 security patch following some unexpected results.

March 2020 Patch Tuesday forecast

For some of us, these two events caused a bit of chaos until they were sorted out. Let’s take a quick look in the rearview mirror, before jumping ahead to what looks like an easy drive for March.

Microsoft did a great job providing information and testing tools in advance of the Windows 7 and Server 2008 end-of-life, but that doesn’t mean everyone was ready when it happened. The extended security updates (ESUs) are supplied as part of the update catalog, but installation on the endpoint fails without first installing and activating a subscription key. Other pre-requisites include the appropriate SHA-2 code signing update and latest service stack updates (SSUs) which, if you have been patching regularly, you will have already installed.

So, last Patch Tuesday, as you can imagine, getting the systems to the proper state with all three components in place – activated key, SHA-2 update, and latest SSU, and then applying the new ESU patches was disruptive for some. But now that everyone has been through the procedure, the process of applying the March updates should be much smoother.

The release and subsequent removal of KBs 4524244 and 4502496 created a lot of discussion and confusion. Woody Leonhard provided a detailed chronology and technical breakdown in his article. This is a complicated situation involving the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) boot loader.

In summary, Microsoft released this security update to fix an issue where a third-party UEFI boot manager could allow a reboot, bypassing secure boot entirely. By launching from a hostile operating system, the system would be compromised. Keep in mind this does require physical access to the system. Unfortunately, there were unexpected side effects to the fix which included breaking other boot routines, most notably on HP PCs with Ryzen processors. The updates were pulled, and we are waiting to see if Microsoft re-releases a more comprehensive fix this patch Tuesday.

I mentioned in the forecast last month that the Microsoft Security Advisory 190023 contained more detail on the upcoming security features for the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). This advisory was again updated on February 28, with recommendations on using the new options to harden this protocol.

The advisory specifically stated, “The March 10, 2020 and updates in the foreseeable future will not make changes to LDAP signing or LDAP channel binding policies or their registry equivalent on new or existing domain controllers.” These features will be included in the March Patch Tuesday updates, so take advantage and enable them. Also follow best practices and experiment on your test systems before rolling out to production.

March 2020 Patch Tuesday forecast

  • Microsoft addressed the highest number of CVEs in recent memory last month, so expect a lighter set of updates next week. The ESUs should again track the CVEs addressed with the other standard support operating systems. Office updates were light last month, so there may be a few more coming.
  • Mozilla had some major updates for all products last month but expect a minor update next week. Vulnerabilities continue to pop up in browser-related products.
  • Google just released their security update for Chrome this week, so I don’t expect to see anything on patch Tuesday.
  • Apple released their first major updates in January, so we may see a minor update.
  • Adobe issued major updates for Reader and Acrobat last month, so we should only see a minor update this month if any. I’ll go out on limb and say we won’t see a Flash update this month.

The forecast for updates looks light this month, so breathe a sigh of relief as we leave the February madness behind.

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