Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

7/15/2010
12:27 PM
Adrian Lane
Adrian Lane
Commentary
50%
50%

Patching And Risk Mitigation

I followed an interesting discussion on a DBA chat board this week regarding whether to patch a database. The root issue for the DBA was a minor vulnerability was corrected by a recent patch release, but fear that a multipatch install process could fail halted the upgrade.

I followed an interesting discussion on a DBA chat board this week regarding whether to patch a database. The root issue for the DBA was a minor vulnerability was corrected by a recent patch release, but fear that a multipatch install process could fail halted the upgrade.The fear is not unfounded: Complex patching processes for both point and patch releases, from all vendors, have seen bugs, poorly documented instructions, and minimally tested installer scripts. The trade-off is one of fixing a minor bug at the risk of having the installer fail or, worse, completing a successful installation only to find some days later that you have a new, more damaging bug.

The basic issue of risk aversion is all too common and why we have seen entire industries reluctant to upgrade to a database vendor's latest and greatest patch levels. When Oracle announced version 11G, for example, large percentages of the Asian and central American markets were still running 9.2. Security threats and issues of data security have pushed organizations to patch far more frequently to avoid known vulnerabilities. Still, we have seen recent studies where security patches often lag a year because companies are more afraid of the risk they know and can quantify than the nebulous risk of a security breach.

Most IT professionals figure that having a quality backup prior to a patch installation mitigates the risk of patching, but this is an oversimplification. The problem is not that simple as a failed installation script, where the database fails to restart, resulting in a lot of wasted effort and system downtime. Restoration processes are time-consuming, and while virtualization technologies help, there is still a lot of work to do. In cases where new bugs are discovered after a new revision is up and running, you may not be able to roll back to your previous version because the state of the database has changed. Smaller organization don't have the resources to rigorously test patches prior to deployment, so it becomes "patch and pray."

Database vendors offer announcements of pending patches, prior to availability, which helps IT groups to prepare. Further, they offer some details about what bugs and security threats you can expect to be fixed. But what we don't get from them is decent exploit analysis or workaround options. The database vendors are motivated to have their customers upgrade as often as possible, keeping the community on the latest versions of their software.

In addition, vendors are not eager to divulge details about vulnerabilities, which, quite frankly, makes them look bad. But this is an important vector of information for security professionals and DBAs alike. Understanding how an exploit works aids IT teams to better understand the threat and potential impact to their businesses. The answer may be "no impact," in which case it does not make sense to patch. But there really is not enough information within the vendor patch announcement.

For most security professionals, a workaround is as good as a patch. If they can address the issue through a UTM, WAF, NAC, or whatever tools they have at their disposal, then they really don't care. But without being provided a specific workaround -- other than patching -- they have to dig for answers. For example, if you want to address a remote exploitation of a vulnerability, you cannot implement a firewall rule for the threat without some understanding of the exploit signature. Short of an attack profile, specific instructions for workarounds would accomplish the same goal, but this is absent from database vendor instruction. Your option? Patch.

All in all we have much better information from the vendors regarding security threats and the features of the database that are affected. But we still have a way to go with workarounds and threat analysis to be able to make risk-based decisions on whether to patch, implement a workaround, or do nothing. It's my contention that DBAs would be less likely to do nothing if they were presented some additional information and all available options.

Adrian Lane is an analyst/CTO with Securosis LLC, an independent security consulting practice. Special to Dark Reading. Adrian Lane is a Security Strategist and brings over 25 years of industry experience to the Securosis team, much of it at the executive level. Adrian specializes in database security, data security, and secure software development. With experience at Ingres, Oracle, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Major Brazilian Bank Tests Homomorphic Encryption on Financial Data
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/10/2020
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft Patches Windows Vuln Discovered by the NSA
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/14/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-20003
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Feldtech easescreen Crystal 9.0 Web-Services 9.0.1.16265 allows Stored XSS via the Debug-Log and Display-Log components. This could be exploited when an attacker sends an crafted string for FTP authentication.
CVE-2019-3686
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
openQA before commit c172e8883d8f32fced5e02f9b6faaacc913df27b was vulnerable to XSS in the distri and version parameter. This was reported through the bug bounty program of Offensive Security
CVE-2019-3683
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
The keystone-json-assignment package in SUSE Openstack Cloud 8 before commit d7888c75505465490250c00cc0ef4bb1af662f9f every user listed in the /etc/keystone/user-project-map.json was assigned full "member" role access to every project. This allowed these users to access, modify, create and...
CVE-2019-3682
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
The docker-kubic package in SUSE CaaS Platform 3.0 before 17.09.1_ce-7.6.1 provided access to an insecure API locally on the Kubernetes master node.
CVE-2019-17361
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
In SaltStack Salt through 2019.2.0, the salt-api NEST API with the ssh client enabled is vulnerable to command injection. This allows an unauthenticated attacker with network access to the API endpoint to execute arbitrary code on the salt-api host.