Microsoft has admitted to a security flaw in its Office 97 desktop applications suite that enables hackers to delete files or manipulate data.
The software giant said it was currently testing a fix to correct the problem, which is not discernible to antivirus programs, and would post it to its Web site when it became available. Information on the security hole can be found at www.officeupdate.microsoft.com/Articles/MDAC_TYP.htm.
The bug occurs when users install an ODBC driver in Office 97's spreadsheet program, Excel 97.
The Microsoft Web site explains: "a malicious coder could create an Excel 97 spreadsheet that exploits a vulnerability in this database driver to delete files and perform other malicious acts. A user could encounter this problem by opening a spreadsheet attached to an email message or linked from a Web site."
Juan Carlos Cuartango, a Spanish Web developer, reported the problem to the NTBugTraq mailing list last Thursday and the Microsoft Security Team confirmed its existence in a posting to the same list later that day.
Microsoft officials said the bug does not affect its new Office 2000 suite or some of the later versions of Office 97, but it does affect millions of copies currently installed in customer sites and probably affects many older releases.
They also said that Microsoft may offer a mechanism to alert computer users of embedded system commands and database queries before they are executed.
According to security experts, some newer Compaq and Hewlett-Packard computers, which can be upgraded automatically over the Internet, also contain flaws that could be exploited in a similar way, but only over the Web. Both companies were unavailable to comment at press time.
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