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Microsoft reported on Oct. 5 that it will release a total of 10 updates for its Windows operating system and Office productivity suite as part of its monthly security bulletin for October.

Due out on Oct. 10 are six security updates meant to patch issues identified in Windows, with an additional four updates aimed at fixing vulnerabilities in Office. Both sets of updates will include patches for product flaws rated by Microsoft as critical, the firm’s most severe class of security problem.

The company said it will also forward a security update for its .Net Web services framework that will address a vulnerability rated by Microsoft as moderate.

Microsoft did not release specific details of any of the problems it is hoping to fix with the security updates, or the number of bulletins that would be related to critical issues. However, the Redmond, Wash., company has said previously that its October patch release will include a fix for the so-called SetSlice flaw discovered in the Internet Explorer browser.

SetSlice has already become an attack vector for hackers, some of whom have begun distribution of Trojan and rootkit viruses meant to take advantage of the vulnerability.

Did an out-of-cycle Internet Explorer patch from Microsoft come too late? Click here to read more.

Those exploits target a Windows Shell vulnerability that was first released during security researcher HD Moore’s Month of Browser Bugs project in July, and some of the attacks have been launched by a known cyber-crime organization operating out of Russia, according to virus hunters tracking the threat.

The attack uses Explorer to trigger an integer overflow error in the “setSlice()” method in the “WebViewFolderIcon” ActiveX control. According to Exploit Prevention Labs, an Atlanta-based company that provides zero-day protection tools, two separate online crime groups are using the flaw to hack into legitimate Web sites and message boards and quietly plant a malicious HTML tag called an iFrame on the sites.

As is customary, Microsoft’s MSRT (malicious software removal tool) will be updated after the security bulletin with new definitions for the most virulent malware threats.

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In September, Microsoft shipped updates meant to address four specific vulnerabilities, including critical flaws discovered in both Windows and Office. Once the expected October bulletins arrive, Microsoft will have reported a total of 32 individual flaws affecting all versions of Office, many of which have become popular targets for hackers

Efforts to exploit the Office vulnerabilities have also coincided with a range of zero-day code-execution attacks against Word, Excel and PowerPoint, three of the most widely used programs in the Microsoft Office product line.

Microsoft has put significant effort into improving the development process of its next-generation Windows operating system and Office 2007 products to cut down on the number of software vulnerabilities found in those platforms. However, in a recent interview with eWEEK, Ben Fathi, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Security Technology Unit, said the monthly Patch Tuesday isn’t likely to go away soon.

While the work to lower the number of flaws in Microsoft’s products should help decrease the need for patches, the nature of IT security will demand continued updates when merited, he said.

“I hope [customers] understand that it’s an ongoing process [and] I hope that sometime in the future we have fewer patches and might not need to do a release, but because of the large deployed installed base running on older versions of the OS, and the fact that we’re patching applications and even third-party products, they’ll continue to be necessary,” Fathi said. “We’ve seen the attacks move from the OS up the stack and into the applications, and now we’re doing fewer patches to the OS but possibly more to the applications.”

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