Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Microsoft appears to be rolling back Office Macro blocking

We’re seeing several reports indicating that Microsoft may have rolled back its decision to block Macros in Office.

Currently, no official statement exists—the reports rely on a post by a Microsoft employee in the replies from the original article where the plan to block macros was announced.

Earlier this year, Microsoft decided to disable macros downloaded from the Internet in five Office apps, by default. Users trying to open files downloaded from the Internet that contained macros would see a message, with a link to an article explaining the block.

SECURITY RISK: Microsoft has blocked macros from running because the source of this file is untrusted

Malicious macros have been popular with criminals for more than three decades, and the step was welcomed by the security community. However, some users of Microsoft products have queried a surprising change. Dangerous files downloaded from the internet are not being treated as expected in Office.

The shifting sands of macro blocking

Bizarrely, we’ve only experienced a few months of no macro worries as people discover the currently changing situation. A recent comment on the article describing the block mentioned that macro blocking has now been removed in Office Current Channel:

Is it just me or have Microsoft rolled this change back on the Current Channel?

I was trying to reproduce the pinkish-red ‘Security Risk… Learn More’ notification in the Message Bar, in preparation for demonstrating the new default behaviour for a YouTube video I’m putting together about my company’s macro-enabled toolkit.

Created a simple .xlsm to show a MsgBox in the open event of the workbook, saved it and uploaded it to cloud storage, deleted it from my local storage, re-downloaded it from cloud storage (to a non-trusted location, my Downloads library)… did not use the Unblock checkbox on the Properties dialog to remove the mark of the web… then opened up the file.

It first went into Protected View (expected behaviour), but then after I clicked Enable Editing, instead of getting the pink/red message about macros being blocked altogether, I just got the old ‘Security warning…’ message with the ‘Enable Content’ button. The file’s VBA project wasn’t digitally signed, wasn’t saved to a Trusted Location, and still had the mark of the web on it… so macros should have been blocked.

response came from someone called Angela Robertson, billed as “A Microsoft employee on the Microsoft Tech Community”:

Based on feedback received, a rollback has started. An update about the rollback is in progress. I apologize for any inconvenience of the rollback starting before the update about the change was made available.

Waiting for more information

At the time of writing, we can’t say what this community feedback is or why it’s been so influential in triggering the apparent decision to disable macro blocking. The response in security circles is somewhat less than enthusiastic, and there’s no new information outside of waiting to see what’s contained in the promised “update”.

Recommended:  Microsoft Defence Report – Hackers Highly Target Publicly-Disclosed Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

Indeed, all we have currently is a second Microsoft post which confirms the rollback:

…based on feedback, we’re rolling back this change from Current Channel production. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received so far, and we’re working to make improvements in this experience. We’ll provide another update when we’re ready to release again to Current Channel. Thank you.

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