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Microsoft to give partners heads-up on security vulnerabilities

Redmond readies new programs to help customers prioritize patches and to let vendors update their affected software before exploits can be written.

Microsoft will be giving companies that sell security software and services to its customers a sneak peek at the technical details of the vulnerabilities in Microsoft software before the company releases its monthly "Patch Tuesday" updates.

The new Microsoft Active Protections Program, set to be announced at the Black Hat security conference on Tuesday, is designed to give software vendors a chance to prepare updates to their software before attackers have a chance to reverse engineer Microsoft's security patch and create an exploit.

"It's essentially a race between the attackers and the protectors," said Andrew Cushman, who runs the Microsoft Security Response Center. The program will "give a head start to software providers delivering security features to our mutual customers."

"It will save (vendors) the work of reverse engineering the patch and identifying where the vulnerability is and what triggers the exploitability," he said.

Cushman did not say how vendors would be notified or how much lead time they would get. Software companies that provide protection against host-based or network-based attacks will have to apply for membership to the program and be accepted. They and Microsoft will then be under mutual non-disclosure agreements, he said.

"The goal is to give it to them so they can have updates available as close to 10 a.m. as possible" on the second Tuesday of every month, Cushman said.

The program will begin in October. Microsoft has already floated the idea by IBM/ISS, TippingPoint and Juniper, he said.

Microsoft also will be providing an Exploitability Index in its monthly security bulletins beginning in October that will help organizations prioritize vulnerabilities by assigning one of three ratings to each one based on the likelihood of exploits being developed. The ratings from most severe to least severe are: "exploitation is likely to occur and to be reliable," "exploitation is likely to occur but with inconsistent reliability" and "exploitation is unlikely to occur," according to Cushman.

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