Security Bulletin

Microsoft Security Bulletin MS03-035 - Important

Flaw in Microsoft Word Could Enable Macros to Run Automatically (827653)

Published: September 03, 2003 | Updated: November 24, 2003

Version: 1.2

Originally posted: September 03, 2003
Updated: November 24, 2003


Who should read this bulletin:  Customers who are using Microsoft® Word

Impact of vulnerability:  Run macros without warning

Maximum Severity Rating:  Important

Recommendation:  Customers who are using affected versions of Microsoft Word should apply the security patch immediately.

End User Bulletin: An end user version of this bulletin is available at:


Affected Software:

  • Microsoft Word 97
  • Microsoft Word 98 (J)
  • Microsoft Word 2000
  • Microsoft Word 2002
  • Microsoft Works Suite 2001
  • Microsoft Works Suite 2002
  • Microsoft Works Suite 2003
  • Microsoft Works Suite 2004

General Information

Technical details

Technical description:

A macro is a series of commands and instructions that can be grouped together as a single command to accomplish a task automatically. Microsoft Word supports the use of macros to allow the automation of commonly performed tasks. Since macros are executable code it is possible to misuse them, so Microsoft Word has a security model designed to validate whether a macro should be allowed to execute depending on the level of macro security the user has chosen.

A vulnerability exists because it is possible for an attacker to craft a malicious document that will bypass the macro security model. If the document was opened, this flaw could allow a malicious macro embedded in the document to be executed automatically, regardless of the level at which macro security is set. The malicious macro could take the same actions that the user had permissions to carry out, such as adding, changing or deleting data or files, communicating with a web site or formatting the hard drive.

The vulnerability could only be exploited by an attacker who persuaded a user to open a malicious document -there is no way for an attacker to force a malicious document to be opened.

Mitigating factors:

  • The user must open the malicious document for an attacker to be successful. An attacker cannot force the document to be opened automatically.
  • The vulnerability cannot be exploited automatically through e-mail. A user must open an attachment sent in e-mail for an e-mail borne attack to be successful.
  • By default, Outlook 2002 block programmatic access to the Address Book. In addition, Outlook 98 and 2000 block programmatic access to the Outlook Address Book if the Outlook Email Security Update has been installed. Customers who use any of these products would not be at risk of propagating an e-mail borne attack that attempted to exploit this vulnerability.
  • The vulnerability only affects Microsoft Word - other members of the Office product family are not affected.

Severity Rating:

Microsoft Word (all versions) Important
Microsoft Works Suite (all versions) Important

The above assessment is based on the types of systems affected by the vulnerability, their typical deployment patterns, and the effect that exploiting the vulnerability would have on them.

Vulnerability identifier: CAN-2003-0664

Tested Versions:

Microsoft tested Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Word 2000, Microsoft Word 98(J), Microsoft Word 97, Microsoft Word X for Macintosh, Microsoft Word 2001 for Macintosh, Microsoft Word 98 for Macintosh, Microsoft Works Suite 2003, Microsoft Works Suite 2002 and Microsoft Works Suite 2001 to assess whether they are affected by this vulnerability. Previous versions are no longer supported and may or may not be affected by this vulnerability.

Frequently asked questions

What's the scope of the vulnerability?
This vulnerability could enable an attacker to create a document that, when opened in Microsoft Word, could allow an unsigned macro to run regardless of the macro security level. Macros can take any action that the user can take, and as a result this vulnerability could allow an attacker to take actions such as changing data, communicating with Web sites, reformatting the hard disk, or changing the Word security settings. The vulnerability only affects Word-other members of the Office product family are not affected.

What causes the vulnerability?
The vulnerability results because Word incorrectly checks properties in a modified document, causing it to not prompt the user with a macro security warning when macros are present in the document.

What's a macro?
Generally, the term macro refers to a small program that automates frequently-performed tasks in an operating system or in a program. For example, all members of the Office family of products support the use of macros. This allows companies to develop macros that perform as sophisticated productivity tools that run in Word, in Excel, or in other programs. Like any computer program, macros can be misused. Many viruses are written as macros and are embedded in Office documents. To combat this threat, Office has a security model that is designed to make sure that macros can only run when the user wants them to run. In this case, however, there is a flaw in the security model, which can be exploited when a user opens a malformed document.

What's wrong with the way Microsoft Word checks macro security?
There is a flaw in the way that Word assesses macro security when a document is opened that could allow the macro security checks to be bypassed under certain circumstances.

What could this vulnerability enable an attacker to do?
This vulnerability could enable an attacker to create a malicious document that could allow a macro to run automatically, if an attacker persuaded a user to open the specially-crafted document. This could allow an attacker to take any action on the system that the user can take, including adding, changing, or deleting data, running other programs, or formatting the hard disk.

What could the macro do?
The macro could take any action that the user can take. This would include adding, changing, or deleting files, communicating with a Web site, reformatting the hard disk, and so forth. A macro also could change the user's macro security level. This could include disabling macro protection. As a result, if the user were attacked by means of this vulnerability, the user's macro security level could be reduced and other macros that would otherwise be stopped by Word could be allowed to run.

How could an attacker exploit this vulnerability?
An attacker could seek to exploit this vulnerability by creating a specially-crafted Word document that contained a malicious macro. The attacker could then send it to a user, typically through an e-mail message, and then persuade the user to open the document. An attacker could also host the specially-crafted Word document on a network share or on a Web site; however, the attacker would still need to persuade the user to open the document.

Microsoft Works Suite is listed as a vulnerable product - why?
Microsoft Works Suite includes Microsoft Word. Microsoft Works users should use Office Update at: to detect and to install the appropriate patch.

What does the patch do?
This patch eliminates the vulnerability by making sure that Word carries out the appropriate macro security checks when it opens a document.

Patch availability

Download locations for this patch

Additional information about this patch

Installation platforms:

  • The Word 2002 patch can be installed on systems that are running Word 2002 with Office XP Service Pack 2, and on systems that are running Microsoft Works Suite 2003 or Microsoft Works Suite 2002. The administrative update can also be installed on systems that are running Office XP Service Pack 1.
  • The Word 2000 patch can be installed on systems that are running Word 2000 with Office 2000 Service Pack 3 and Microsoft Works 2001.
  • For information about Microsoft Word 97 and Microsoft Word 98(J) support, see the following the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article: </https:>https:

Inclusion in future service packs:

The fix for this issue will be included in future service packs for the affected products.

Reboot needed: No

Patch can be uninstalled: No

Superseded patches: None.

Verifying patch installation:

  • Word 2002: Verify that the version number of WinWord.exe is 10.0.5522.0.
  • Word 2000: Verify that the version number of WinWord.exe is
  • Word 97 and Word 98(J): Information about checking Microsoft Word 97 and Microsoft Word 98(J) is available in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 827647.
  • Works Suite 2002 and Works Suite 2003: Verify that the version number of WinWord.exe is 10.0.5522.0.
  • Works Suite 2001: Verify that the version number of WinWord.exe is




Localized versions of this patch are available at the locations discussed in "Patch Availability".

Obtaining other security patches:

Patches for other security issues are available from the following locations:

  • Security patches are available from the Microsoft Download Center, and can be most easily found by doing a keyword search for "security_patch".
  • Patches for consumer platforms are available from the WindowsUpdate web site

Other information:


Microsoft thanks Jim Bassett of Practitioners Publishing Company for reporting this issue to us and working with us to protect customers.


Security Resources: The Microsoft TechNet Security Web Site provides additional information about security in Microsoft products.


The information provided in the Microsoft Knowledge Base is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Microsoft disclaims all warranties, either express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event shall Microsoft Corporation or its suppliers be liable for any damages whatsoever including direct, indirect, incidental, consequential, loss of business profits or special damages, even if Microsoft Corporation or its suppliers have been advised of the possibility of such damages. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of liability for consequential or incidental damages so the foregoing limitation may not apply.


  • V1.0 (September 03, 2003): Bulletin Created.
  • V1.1 (September 03, 2003): Link Updated within the Installation Platforms section.
  • V1.2 (November 24, 2003): Added Microsoft Works Suite 2004 to affected products.

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