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Commentary

Dissecting Microsoft's Latest Security Intelligence Report

This week Microsoft published volume 7 of its Security Intelligence Report (SIR), covering January 2009 through June 2009.
This week Microsoft published volume 7 of its Security Intelligence Report (SIR), covering January 2009 through June 2009.In the report, Microsoft uses data from internal data sources such as:

The report also included external data from a variety of sources to capture the security landscape of Windows computers during the first half of 2009.

The report extends on previous sections and includes for the first time a comparison of the different patching speeds seen in the Windows Operating system family and for the Microsoft Office Application suite. Microsoft confirms (SIR pg. 129) that users are applying patches to the Windows OS faster than patches to the Office suite, a practice which increases the system's susceptibility to attacks. Unfortunately the data is not broken down by source, so we do not know whether this behavior is observed equally in the consumer (Live OneCare) and the enterprise (Forefront Client Security) space.

The graph below compares attacks observed in the sample set against Windows and Office During 1H09. The data shows that Windows OS is patched much faster than Office products, making the median for the last patch date for Windows to be 1.2 years compared to 5.6 years for Office.

win_office_patches_small.PNG

In Qualys' own data, which is derived entirely from enterprises and SMBs, we have seen similar behavior -- organizations patch applications, such as Microsoft Office, at a markedly slower pace than the core operating system.

Microsoft is by no means the only software vendor affected; we see the same behavior for software provided by Adobe (Adobe Reader and Flash), Apple (QuickTime and iTunes), and Sun Java. In the consumer space, this is likely caused by the prevalence of Windows Update, which delivers only patches for the Windows OS. Microsoft Update, which delivers patches for Windows, Office, and other Microsoft products, is still used only in about 50 percent of all update requests, even though its usage has been growing for the last three years (SIR pg. 162).

In enterprises, however, this should not be the case -- companies typically use dedicated patching tools to control the distribution of patches and all such tools support the installation of patches for common applications, including Office, Adobe Reader, and Apple's QuickTime.

This is clearly an area where enterprise IT administrators can tune their processes and improve the security of their installation by starting to pay more attention to applications patches as more attach vectors are now being focused on these software flaws.

-- As the CTO for Qualys, Wolfgang Kandek is responsible for product direction and all operational aspects of the QualysGuard platform and its infrastructure. Wolfgang has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing information systems. His focus has been on Unix-based server architectures and application delivery through the Internet. Wolfgang provides the latest commentary on his blog: laws.qualys.com and also publishes his Patch Tuesday commentary to the QualysGuard channel: http://www.youtube.com/QualysGuard. He is a frequent source in business and trade media and speaks at industry conferences around the world, most recently at RSA 2009.

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