Do you use Gadgets in Windows 7 or Vista? Bad news, then. In a security advisory published yesterday, Microsoft says the diminutive desktop (and sidebar) applets may be vulnerable to attacks that enable remote code execution. An attacker could purportedly use them to access your PC with the same privileges as your user account—so if you have administrative privileges, the attacker could get full control of your machine.
To address the problem, Microsoft has released a "Fix it" wizard that disables Windows Gadgets altogether. (Another wizard, available from the same page, switches the feature back on.) Microsoft’s security advisory says you can disable Windows Gadgets yourself using the Registry Editor, as well, provided you follow a few simple instructions.
According to Computerworld, the advisory "may be linked" to the upcoming Black Hat security conference. There, two researchers—Mickey Shkatov and Toby Kohlenberg—plan to show a presentation about attack vectors in Gadgets. Here’s the abstract:
Why send someone an executable when you can just send them a sidebar gadget?
We will be talking about the windows gadget platform and what the nastiness that can be done with it, how are gadgets made, how are they distributed and more importantly their weaknesses. Gadgets are comprised of JS, CSS and HTML and are application that the Windows operating system has embedded by default. As a result there are a number of interesting attack vectors that are interesting to explore and take advantage of.
We will be talking about our research into creating malicious gadgets, misappropriating legitimate gadgets and the sorts of flaws we have found in published gadgets.
Sure enough, in the "Acknowledgments" section of the advisory, Microsoft thanks "Mickey Shkatov and Toby Kohlenberg for working with us on Gadget vulnerabilities." I guess Shkatov and Kohlenberg may be white hat hackers rather than black hat ones. (Thanks to The Verge for the tip.)