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Perimeter

8/17/2009
02:39 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Qualys Report Shows Disturbing Persistence Of Critical Vulns

In my recent Tech Insight on vulnerability management, I covered a few of the major components for having a successful program to address vulnerabilities as they are disclosed by vendors and researchers. I've known for a while that patching desktop applications is lagging behind, but for some reason companies just aren't taking it seriously enough to resolve quickly -- even when confronted wit

In my recent Tech Insight on vulnerability management, I covered a few of the major components for having a successful program to address vulnerabilities as they are disclosed by vendors and researchers. I've known for a while that patching desktop applications is lagging behind, but for some reason companies just aren't taking it seriously enough to resolve quickly -- even when confronted with alarming security advisories indicating that an application deployed on 90 percent of their desktops could allow for remote compromise.As a penetration tester, it's not hard to accept that as a fact because it's something we experience firsthand when looking for ways into our target environment. I missed the release of Qualys' "The Laws of Vulnerabilities 2.0: Black Hat 2009 Edition" (PDF) somehow with all of the excitement surrounding Black Hat and Defcon. What's cool about the report is that it provides an interesting look at the lifetime of vulnerabilities in an organization that have been scanned by Qualys.

What's a bit surprising is that even though the half life of vulnerabilities -- or time it takes to resolve vulnerabilities on 50 percent of desktops -- is about 30 days, there is still a persistence of critical vulnerabilities that last over a long period of time. For example, major vulnerabilities stick around at a level of about 5 percent to 10 percent instead of being extinguished completely. The report even says they still see the existence of vulnerabilities associated with the SQL Slammer worm back in 2003.

Those are scary numbers. As a consumer, it's disconcerting to see the graphs on page 5 that show the persistence of vulnerabilities in the different markets. I'd prefer to see much lower numbers in financial and health markets than 20 percent of desktops being affected by critical vulnerabilities at days 90 and 60, respectively.

As a security professional and customer of companies in those industries, I'd be seriously ticked if my information was disclosed by one of them because of a client side exploit. Isn't one of the major reasons for these organizations being scanned by a company like Qualys to find vulns and fix them? What gives?

Or is this a case of the security professionals in those companies not being taken seriously? Or maybe their not doing a good job making the case for quick and effective patch management? What do you think?

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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