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Report: From Bug Disclosure to Exploit in 24 Hours

New IBM ISS report shows fast and furious nature of Web browser vulnerability finds and attacks

Within 24 hours of a new Web vulnerability going public, an exploit gets released and attacks begin, according to a new report from IBM ISS’s X-Force on vulnerability trends in the first half of 2008.

The report also emphasized how the Web browser is the new bull’s eye for attackers: Nearly 60 percent of all client-side exploits were aimed at the browser, versus less than 20 percent at the operating system.

Kris Lamb, manager of X-Force Operations, says he was surprised at how much the new data underlined the trend of browser attacks, overshadowing that of the operating system and other points on the desktop. “Many of us in the industry have been saying this for some time, but it has never had a lot of quantitative data to back up the qualitative observation. I think this report settles it once and for all,” Lamb says.

“The browser is the new end point and an enterprise security strategy around this area of risk and growing concern better be comprehensive and holistic,” he says. “We don't expect any of the client side browser trends to be a flash in the pan for 2008 only.”

Even scarier is how fast vulnerability disclosure leads to exploit code and attacks in Web and other major vulnerability categories: “Where we used to talk days, it now appears we need to start talking hours,” Lamb says.

This expedient exploit trend has a lot to do, of course, with the wealth of automated exploit toolkits. In the first half of the year, over 80 percent of all exploits (not just Web ones) were unleashed on the day of, or before, the official vulnerability disclosure, according to the report. And 94 percent of all browser-related exploits went public within 24 hours of official vulnerability disclosure, compared with 79 percent in 2007.

But the bad guys aren’t necessarily going for the innovative attacks. According to the report, the most popular browser exploits in the first half were one to two years old, many dating back to 2006 (and that have patches). “Being a bad guy has become a lot more about commodity activities and security research reuse than about being top tier security researchers in their own right,” Lamb says.

Meanwhile, the focus is increasingly on exploiting flaws in browser plug-ins, according to the IBM ISS report. Over 50 percent of all browser vulnerabilities disclosed in the first half of the year were in browser plug-in applications, and 78 percent of all public browser exploits were aimed at plug-ins, versus 22 percent at the browser itself. ActiveX plug-ins were some of the biggest offenders, according to the report.

On the Web server side, SQL injection ruled, with 40 percent of the vulnerability disclosures, followed by cross-site scripting with fewer than 35 percent. And the report also highlighted one of IBM ISS’s (and other security vendors’) pet causes: responsible disclosure. About 70 percent of all vulnerability disclosures came from independent researchers in the past year and a half, according to the report, and research organizations (including X-Force) find about 80 percent of critical bugs. And indie researchers are nearly twice as likely to have exploit code released the same day their bug is disclosed, the report says.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • IBM Internet Security Systems

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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