Trouble at t’ Office

Many organizations are failing to address security issues surrounding vital software like Microsoft Office, often at their peril.

Despite the cyber security industry being at the forefront of technological breakthroughs and generally thought of as a forward thinking industry, it can be just as susceptible to incomprehensive policy enactments as any other sector.

In a presentation given at September’s MWR Briefing London, we highlighted that a large number of organizations are not placing Office settings as high up on their list of security concerns as they should.

Office, while not a component of an operating system per se, is still an essential piece of software to most users within an organization. From email to Word, Excel and PowerPoint, nearly every employee using a machine with a Windows operating system is reliant on Office.

The problem, as MWR’s research explains, is that Office’s settings effectively impact a company’s exposed attack surface, as it is their abuse that will give an attacker the initial foothold through the delivery of malware within Office files. Malicious code can be deployed via Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), a scripting language that is enabled by default in all Office versions and is used in macros, templates or other active content. This downside to VBA has been known for nearly 20 years but is often ignored when implementing security.

Many organizations can’t simply disable VBA as to do so would prevent their employees using a variety of useful functionality within macros and templates. Therefore, MWR recommends that tailoring such functionality to specific user needs and deploying it through central policies, such as Active Directory’s Group Policy, the Windows component that controls a user’s working environment.

However, it is also a far too common occurrence that Office settings are not centrally managed. As a result, the responsibility for keeping them in a secure state falls to individual users, who often do not understand their security implications.

Finally, even in “locked down” Office deployments where settings are centrally controlled and addressed on a user basis, the configuration may still be complex enough to fail, leaving holes in the system’s defenses. Therefore additional controls, such as a threat detection system like MWR’s Countercept, are always advised.

The abuse of Office’s functionality still remains the dominant mechanism for delivering malicious code, particularly in targeted attacks. As such it is vital that organizations treat its security settings with the same seriousness as other aspects of their cyber security profile.

To find out more about the abuse of Office templates and their persistence implications within today's end user environments, as well as the importance of treating program settings with the attention it deserves, view the presentation given by MWR’s Senior Security Consultant Kostas Lintovois here.



Accreditations & Certificates

MWR is an accredited member of The Cyber Security Incident Response Scheme (CSIR) approved by CREST (Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers).
MWR is certified under the Cyber Incident Response (CIR) scheme to deal with sophisticated targeted attacks against networks of national significance.
We are certified to comply with ISO 9001 and 14001 in the UK, internationally accepted standards that outline how to put an effective quality and environmental management systems in place.
MWR is certified to comply with ISO 27001 to help ensure our client information is managed securely.
As an Approved Scanning Vendor MWR is approved by PCI SSC to conduct external vulnerability scanning services to PCI DSS Requirement 11.2.2.
We are members of the Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers (CREST), an organisation serving the needs of the information security sector.
MWR is a supplier to the Crown Commercial Service (CCS), which provides commercial and procurement services to the UK public sector.
MWR is a Qualified Security Assessor, meaning we have been qualified by PCI to validate other organisation's adherence to PCI DSS.
As members of CHECK we are measured against high standards set by NCSC for the services we provide to Her Majesty's Government.
MWR’s consultants hold Certified Simulated Attack Manager (CCSAM) and Certified Simulated Attack Specialist (CCSAS) qualifications and are authorized by CREST to perform STAR penetration testing services.