Microsoft this week shipped two tools for Microsoft Office 2007 and Office 2003 users aimed at protecting users of those products from so-called "zero-day" electronic attacks. The tools convert Office documents into Open XML formats and allow administrators to block particular Office file types, respectively.
"Both features are designed to make it easier for customers to protect themselves from Office files that may contain malicious software, such as unsolicited Office files received from unknown or known sources," a Microsoft security advisory announcing the availability of the tools reads. "When used together they are an effective mitigation strategy for customers when the threat of attack using certain Office types exists. This enables customers to continue using Microsoft Office with a high degree of assurance that the files being opened are considered safe and will not infect users with malicious software."
The first tool, the Microsoft Office Isolated Conversion Environment (MOICE), uses the file type converters that first debuted in Office 2007 to convert Office 2007 and Office 2003 binary documents to the new Open XML file formats in an isolated environment, Microsoft says. In this way, potentially unsafe Office documents can be converted into safe XML-based documents that can't succumb to the various electronic attacks currently targeting binary documents.
The second tool, the File Block Functionality for Microsoft Office, allows administrators to restrict which file types that Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word 2007 and 2003 can open using registry settings or Group Policy. This gives corporate environments a quick way to shut down access to potentially dangerous Office binary file types in the event of an emerging electronic attack.
Although these tools are certainly welcome, I'm curious whether Microsoft will use the recent spate of Office document attacks as a new rationale for moving its customers over to the new Open XML document formats it introduced with Office 2007. Because these XML-based formats are immune to the vulnerabilities that afflict the older Office formats, customers suddenly have another reason to migrate to Microsoft's latest Office version.