There’s a fair bit of confusion circulating about what happened, and what’s going to happen next, which is understandable — it’s been confusing! I’ll summarize here what happened, and what’s next.
The add-on and plugin in question have a long and storied history, but for the events of this weekend the timeline basically starts this summer:
July 2009: Mark Dowd, Ryan Smith, and David Dewey present a paper at Black Hat detailing vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer and other software (including some Firefox plugins, such as Google’s Native Client, but not including Firefox itself or the Windows Presentation Foundation plugin).
Tuesday, October 13: Microsoft’s Security Research & Development team posts on their blog revealing that one of the Internet Explorer vulnerabilities in the Dowd and co. paper can be used to attack Firefox users through the use of this IE component in the Windows Presentation Foundation plugin. This plugin was and is distributed as part of Windows .NET Framework 3.5. As part of Patch Tuesday, Microsoft releases MS09-054 and its associated cumulative update, labeled as an Internet Explorer patch. (The bulletin has subsequently been updated to mention Firefox, see below.)
Friday, October 16: Mozilla contacted Microsoft to learn more about the exposure of our shared users. We discussed the nature of the vulnerability as well as the difficulty of uninstalling the plugin and add-on, and agreed that Mozilla should blocklist the add-on and plugin while we sorted out how best to ensure that Firefox users on Windows were protected. The SRP blog post was updated to indicate that Firefox users who applied the patch were protected from the vulnerability.
Saturday, October 17: Based on feedback from users (chiefly enterprise users), our web team began work on mechanisms for an overridable block (“soft block”) capability for Firefox 3.5 users. Discussions with Microsoft indicated that the add-on was a possible vector for the exploit, so it remained blocked.
Sunday, October 18: Microsoft informed us that the add-on (.NET Framework Assistant) was NOT a means for exploiting the vulnerability, and we removed it from the blocklist. The Windows Presentation Foundation plugin was confirmed to be exploitable unless the patch was applied, and remained on the blocklist. The MS09-054 bulletin was updated by Microsoft to include text about Firefox users.
Monday, October 19: We updated our blocklist management system to permit “soft blocks”, and adjusted the blocklist entry for the Windows Presentation Foundation plugin so that users who know they have the appropriate IE patch installed can re-enable the plugin.
Microsoft is monitoring patch adoption rates for the relevant patch, and when it reaches a high level of deployment we will remove the remaining blocklist item. I expect that will be in the next 48 hours at the outside.
Users of Windows 7 RTM are not affected, as the add-on and plugin are not distributed as part of Windows 7. Microsoft is working with Mozilla to make the functionality available to Firefox users in a user-controlled way for all operating systems in the future.
Stephanie Boesch, Director of Program Management at Microsoft, coordinated with Mozilla on this issue, and I want to thank her for her responsiveness and help throughout. She says: “Security is a top priority for all Microsoft customers, and we jointly decided the best course of action was to temporarily block the plugin and add-on while Firefox customers applied the Internet Explorer Security Update. We appreciate Mozilla’s shared commitment to protecting our mutual customers and look forward to working more closely with them in the future on such issues.”
Updated (Wed, Oct 21): fixed a timeline error caused by the SRD blog post having an incorrect publishing date on it, which even survived MSFT review of the timeline. The SRD post was published on Tuesday, not Monday.
[Comments are closed on my blog, but you can leave comments at the Mozilla Security Blog post on the topic if you'd like.]