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Christmas Wish List: Patching & Whitelisting

Christmas is next week, and if I were putting together a wish list of things to help lock down my enterprises, I'd have to put patch management and application whitelisting at the top. Why? It's simple. The two together could deliver the one-two punch to knockout the majority of compromises I've been seeing lately.
Christmas is next week, and if I were putting together a wish list of things to help lock down my enterprises, I'd have to put patch management and application whitelisting at the top. Why? It's simple. The two together could deliver the one-two punch to knockout the majority of compromises I've been seeing lately.I wish patch management was easier, but the fact is it isn't. Every vendor does its own thing, and until there is some cooperation among them, it's going to continue to be a problem. For example, suppose your organization uses Mozilla Firefox or Adobe Acrobat. Both of those products have built-in update mechanisms, but users without administrative rights cannot perform the updates.

Microsoft took the initiative and created the Windows Server Update Services that allows enterprises to patch their Microsoft products, but other vendors' products are left in the cold. It seems like someone would have approached Microsoft or some highly motivated Microsoft engineer would have said, "Hey, we should open this up for others to use."

But that hasn't happened, or maybe it has and the idea was shot down. That's why vendors like Lumension, BigFix, and others sell enterprise patch management solutions designed to patch multiple operating systems and software from Microsoft, Adobe, Sun Java, etc.

Now you might be thinking patch management sounds great, but it doesn't protect against zero-day attacks like the current one against Adobe Acrobat (see this great video on exploiting the zero-day vuln with Metasploit). Yes, that is true, which is why I would complement patching with application whitelisting so you can control which applications are run on the endpoints in your enterprise.

When looking into application whitelisting, make sure the solution you choose or your antivirus product (or host intrusion prevention solution) has the protections to detect and prevent memory corruption exploits and dll injection. If not, then a whitelisted application could be running, get exploited, and continue to run but with malicious code injected into it while the whitelisting solution is none the wiser.

While not a protection against a lot of social engineering and authorized insider attacks, the two solutions combined would certainly eliminate the majority of them. I wonder if Santa's going to come through this year and deliver some solid enterprise protection.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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