Microsoft on Tuesday released 12 security bulletins to fix a whopping 57 vulnerabilities, including five critical issues. With plenty of restarts required as part of the patching process, security analysts are calling February's Patch Tuesday "disruptive."

Paul Henry, a security and forensic analyst at Lumension, told us it was disturbing to note how many different Microsoft platforms are critically affected this month. Everything from Windows XP to the new Windows RT is critically affected.

"It's never a good sign when your current code base is impacted. There are also many more bulletins this month than we've seen in the last few months," Henry said. "We noted in December that 2012 brought more consistency and stability to Patch Tuesday than we saw in 2011. We hope that this month is a one-time spike and not a return to the yo-yo pattern of 2011."

Drive-by Bug Fixes

Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle, told us this month's Patch Tuesday was enough to make an administrator's head spin. If there's any good news in a patch this massive, he said, it's that the majority of the common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) belong to just a few bulletins.

His advice: If you only have time to do the absolute minimum, you should patch Internet Explorer and Flash immediately. That's because both of these remote execution bugs are serious security risks, so patch all of them and patch them fast.

"We received two bulletins that include a total of 14 CVEs affecting all versions of Internet Explorer today. Both bulletins fix 'drive-by bugs' that only require the victim to browse a Web site to become infected with malicious code," Storms said. "Maybe the reason the IE bug count is so high this month is because Microsoft's IE security team is determined to beat their bug backlog into submission. I'd hate to think that we should expect this volume of IE CVEs every month in 2013."

Storms expects IT teams to be on the hustle because in addition to the IE patches, Adobe released fixes for another pair of remote code execution bugs in Flash and Shockwave. He said it's important not to lose sight of these in the tidal wave of Microsoft patches -- the Adobe updates are just as important because successful attacks can allow attackers to gain complete control of infected systems.

"As expected, the Exchange bulletin patches Oracle's Outside In technology instead of more crucial components in Exchange," Storms said. "This is a huge relief with all the other, more critical patches that have to deployed as soon as possible."

A Quick Run-Down Here's an abbreviated run-down of the bulletins from Henry:

MS13-010 is a vector markup language remote code execution vulnerability, though it seems like an Internet Explorer bulletin at first glance. There is no real way to reduce or mitigate the risk of this vulnerability, which consequently, makes it the highest priority patch for the month.

MS13-009 is a critical remote code execution issue and it addresses 13 CVEs. Fortunately, none of these CVEs are under active attack.

MS13-020 is an update in OLE (object linking and embedded) automation. The primary vector for attack through this vulnerability would be parsing RTF files in e-mail through OLE automation.

MS13-011 is a media decompression vulnerability that could allow for a remote code execution. Fortunately, this one does not affect any of the newer platforms.

MS13-012 is an Outside-In update for Exchange. This is a critical remote code execution issue and should be a high priority.

MS13-015 is an elevation of privilege vulnerability in .NET. This bulletin is critical, but is fortunately not under active attack.

MS13-016 is a vulnerability in the kernel mode drivers. This does affect all versions of Windows from XP to Windows 8.

MS13-013 is an important update adjusting a remote code execution issue in Fast Search for SharePoint 2010. It only affects the advanced filter pack. This is the Outside-In issue referenced above.

MS13-014 fixes a vulnerability in Microsoft Server that would allow denial of service. This issue affects the handling of file operations, such as file share.

MS13-017 is a regular kernel update for an elevation of privilege issue with 3 CVEs. It affects all versions of Windows and is pretty similar to normal kernel updates.

MS13-018 fixes a TCP vulnerability that could allow denial of service. It affects Vista through Server 2012.

MS13-019 is an elevation of privilege vulnerability in CSRSS, which is Windows Client/Server Runtime Subsystem. This is a single CVE affecting a limited number of Windows platforms. It has to do with how CSRSS handles objects and memory.