Microsoft’s Printnightmare Vulnerability Portends Dangers for Print Spooler Users

It is not unusual for software developers to discover flaws and vulnerabilities in their software after launch. Some of the vulnerabilities could result from errors on the part of the developers themselves. In other situations, however, the vulnerabilities could arise from the actions of malicious entities. In any of the above situations, bad actors could take advantage of the situation to wreak havoc on innocent users. Hence, developers try their best to get in front of such situations when they arise, guiding users regarding actions to stay safe.

The latest software company to experience this challenge is Microsoft. The vulnerabilities were discovered in its Print Spooler application on its Windows 7 and Windows 10 operating systems. Print Spooler is an app that is used for printing on these Windows operating systems. It creates a queue and stores all of the documents, printing them one after the other. This makes for an orderly system such that even if the printer gets clogged, the documents fed into it will continue printing in their order afterward.

The Vulnerability 

This vulnerability has been dubbed the Printnightmare and, as stated earlier, affects the Print Spooler application. The vulnerabilities are in two forms. The first is privilege escalation. This occurs in the situation where a user with low-level access can upgrade and potentially seize control of the device. For instance, such a low-access user can make themselves an admin or gain system-level control of the compromised device. 

The second vulnerability is known as remote code execution. Here, a malicious third party can seize control of the affected device, modify data, create new folders or even install or uninstall programs on the device. The vulnerability is said to affect all the versions of Windows, seeing as the Print Spooler runs by default on Windows but also has compatible apps for OS and Domain controllers

Experts have listed the vulnerability in the category of zero-day security breaches. Zero-day vulnerabilities are called so because programmers have zero days to fix the challenge. Thus, during the period where a patch or solution is created, the user remains vulnerable to hackers. In some cases, users would already have been compromised when zero-day vulnerabilities arise. When an attack occurs in such a situation, it is called a zero-day attack.

Discovery

Researchers at Sangrof, a cybersecurity company, were the ones who first discovered the vulnerability. The revelation was due to an error or miscommunication between Sangfor and Microsoft: it isn’t quite clear what the particular problem is. So, it happened that Sangfor researcher included this particular vulnerability in the list of breaches that Microsoft had developed patches for, unaware that Microsoft had not done so. The post containing the information was immediately deleted. But that was not before several websites got a whiff of the development and ran with the story.

What To Do?

Generally, users and even programmers themselves may not foresee or prevent vulnerabilities from arising. Also, users may even get exposed and be in trouble before the breach is discovered or fixed. Thus, it is always important for users to take proactive measures to stay safe. Some of the measures include:

Use Security Software

There are quite a number of them available, all sporting different features and specialties. However, the best of the lot is probably a VPN. A VPN secures the network proceeding from your device. This makes sure that third parties do not take advantage of any vulnerability of any sort to steal your data.

Upgrade Software

This is a simple proactive measure that could make a world of difference for any user. Do your best to install any software updates as soon as they are released. Software updates make revisions to existing software and make changes such as removing outdated features, fixing bugs, or introducing new features.

Maintain Good Online Security Habits

These include verifying the authenticity of any link before clicking on it, avoiding accepting friend requests from strangers, and avoiding using public or shared networks. This is an endless list. However, note that being proactive will save you a lot of hassles in the vast majority of cases.

Specifically, for this Microsoft breach, given the nature of the security breach, it is expected that Microsoft would deploy a patch immediately. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why a patch is taking such a long time. That said, it would be in the best interest of users to disable the Print Spooler at least until the problem is fixed. This is because continued use of the software with the vulnerabilities in place could expose users even further. 

To disable the Print Spooler, the user has two options. The first is to deactivate the Print Spooler on the affected device. In the second option, users can disable the remote printing option by using the Group Policy option available.  

This is not the first time that a breach was discovered in the Print Spooler service. However, the hope is that a solution will be evolved quickly.