WASHINGTON — Microsoft Corp. acknowledged a critical vulnerability Wednesday in nearly all versions of its flagship Windows operating system software, the first such design flaw to affect its latest Windows Server 2003 software.
Microsoft said the vulnerability could allow hackers to seize control of a victim’s Windows computer over the Internet, stealing data, deleting files or eavesdropping on e-mails. The company urged customers to immediately apply a free software repairing patch available from Microsoft’s Web site.
The disclosure was unusually embarrassing for Microsoft because it demonstrated the first such serious flaw in the company’s powerful new computer server software, billed as its safest ever.
The software is aimed at large corporate customers and was the first product sold under a high-profile “Trustworthy Computing” initiative organized last year by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
At the product’s launch in late April, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer declared the new version of Windows to be a “breakthrough in terms of what it means, in terms of its built-in security and reliability.”
The flaw, discovered by researchers in western Poland, also affected Windows versions popular among home users.