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Risk

9/9/2009
11:52 AM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Commentary
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Wordpress Hack And Other Patch Problems Demand Patch Policies

The recent Wordpress hack, affecting older, unpatched versions of the blogware, as well as the raft of critical patches Microsoft released yesterday make this a good time to review -- or implement! -- an effective patch policy.

The recent Wordpress hack, affecting older, unpatched versions of the blogware, as well as the raft of critical patches Microsoft released yesterday make this a good time to review -- or implement! -- an effective patch policy.The Wordpress hack exploited vulnerabilities in older versions of the blogware; self-hosted sites were the major target, obviously, but the attack raises the question of whether or not it's wise for you to be self-hosting.

If you're going to be diligent -- obsessively diligent! -- about installing patches for every app you run, fine. But clearly the hackers are counting on you being neither diligent nor obsessive, hence the effectiveness of their exploits.

Take a look at Wordpress's own advice on how to keep your blog secure. Wordpress bloggers who run automatic updates -- or, obviously, who don't self-host but let Wordpress host their blogs -- didn't have to face the attacks.

But let's face it. If you're like a lot of small and midsized businesses -- and more than a few enterprise-level concerns, for that matter -- staying aware of every app that needs an upgrade or patch is not the highest item on your priority list.

Which raises the question: Why are you self-hosting? If you're not going to maintain, constantly, the level of awareness and attention required to guarantee that you're running the latest, most secure version of every piece of software on your system, you either need to ditch those pieces of software or reconcile yourself to attacks. And it's not just optional or elective software. Microsoft's release of eight critical patches yesterday -- and its failure to address three critical flaws -- remind us (like we needed reminding) of the ongoing exposure our most fundamental tools possess.

What's a business to do?

Take an inventory of the software you're running -- and why you're running it. Do you really need to self-host your blog? And if you do, do you have mechanisms, resources and personnel in place to monitor for upgrades and see that they're installed immediately upon availability?

Automate your patch and upgrade practices wherever possible. Auto-updates can lessen some of the strain on those resources and personnel -- but I'd still recommend monitoring to make sure that a) the patch installed properly and b) every piece of relevant equipment -- including mobile devices and remote and home offices -- is patched.

While we're on the subject of remote and mobile equipment, it's worth reviewing the technical abilities and patch-understanding of that equipment's users. Not a lot of benefit in patching the machine on your desk if the machines on your sales force's laps are unpatched.

The vast majority of data breaches and hacks are a result of carelessness, incompetence or mistakes -- and the majority of vulnerability exploits come in through holes for which patches are available.

No excuse for that -- and no excuses for letting that happen to even one of your programs or machines.

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