A couple of months ago, Secunia's Stefan Frei published a great paper about the patching burden that the average PC user faces every week.The numbers (PDF) are eye-opening: PC users typically have 66 distinct software packages installed, and they need to apply a security patch 75 times a year--an average of 4.8 days for each patch. The amount of work necessary to keep a PC updated is absolutely daunting, so it is no wonder that our PC infrastructure is such a bad state.
One surefire way to improve these statistics is to aggressively uninstall software packages that are not in use. Brian Krebs has been writing about the benefit of uninstalling software, including "Patch it or Scratch it: RealPlayer" and "Don't Need Java? Junk It." This past weekend, I did some spring cleaning in the Control Panel of my own trusted Win XP SP3 and got rid of 26 software packages that had accumulated during the past six months.
The most impacting applications retired are the current favorites of many attackers: Sun/Oracle Java and Adobe Reader. I initially installed Java to access Amazon's AWS/EC2 API, and for PDF files I am currently experimenting with Foxit Reader. Other high-profile applications deleted were Microsoft Project, the .NET framework, and Visio, in addition to three browsers, a Web server, an FTP server, two programming languages, and a number of packages for which I had to research to remember their original purpose.
I reduced my installed application footprint by 30 percent and, according to Frei's graph, my security risk is now reduced by 10 percent. I feel better, lighter. You should try it this week. And let me know your mileage.
-- 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: 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 2010.