Like rules, records were made to be broken, and the security industry's largest-ever vulnerability reporting and remediation didn't disappoint, with 674 total advisories in 2016 - eight more than the year before, according to a report this week from the Zero Day Initiative.
ZDI, launched in 2005, encourages responsible reporting of zero-day vulnerabilities to affected vendors by financially rewarding researchers, and protecting customers while the affected vendor creates, tests, and delivers a patch. ZDI paid out nearly $2 million in rewards in 2016, the group reported this week.
As for the bigger software vulnerability picture, Adobe products accounted for 149 of advisories, or 22% of the ZDI total, same as in 2015. Adobe Reader, Acrobat, and Flash were the main culprits, and ZDI expects the trend to continue as more browsers block Flash by default. In addition, Adobe doesn't operate its own bounty program for bugs and vulnerabilities, unlike Microsoft and Apple. And Adobe is already off to an auspicious start in 2017; ZDI communications manager Dustin Childs tells Dark Reading his organization just notified the vendor of eight new vulnerabilities.
Microsoft fell to number three on ZDI's 2016 list and it had a lower percentage of published ZDI advisories - 11% - down from the previous year's 17%. But those numbers don't tell the whole story, since Microsoft itself published more security bulletins in 2016 than ever before. Microsoft's biggest problem was the continued targeting of browsers; while its Edge browser was supposed to be much more secure than Internet Explorer, almost two-thirds (64%) of Microsoft-related ZDI advisories were related to browsers.
Advisories for Apple products made a significant jump in 2016. There were 61 ZDI advisories posted for the vendor's products in 2016, or 9% of the total, more than what it posted in 2014 and 2015 – 4% both years. The jump isn't completely surprising to Childs, who notes Apple's more pervasive presence with desktop computing, not to mention its smartphone dominance. The installed base of OSX and iOS combined is larger than Windows, Childs adds, and predicts more Apple vulnerabilities in 2017 through ZDI and Apple's own bug bounty program.
Trend Micro, which owns ZDI, also predicts the percentage of Microsoft advisories will continue to drop in 2017 while Apple's increase.
Industrial computing vendor Advantech made its debut on the ZDI list at number two with 112 advisories published – 17% of the published advisories. "This doesn’t necessarily mean this vendor has a wide surface attack area," Childs writes in a ZDI blog post. "All of these cases came in through the same anonymous researcher, meaning the researcher found a specific type of bug prevalent in their systems," Childs says, adding that the same researcher reported no bugs from any other vendor in 2016.
While Advantech's issues were a surprise, Childs says he also expected to see more enterprise software cropping up on the 2016 list from vendors like HP, Dell, or Oracle. "There's a bunch of enterprise software that hasn't been closely looked at, so there's a lot of bugs for researchers to find," he says. And though browsers have become well-trod territory, this business middleware market is mostly untouched.
Nonetheless, infosec professionals and executives should be careful with lists like these, since looking at the numbers without much context doesn’t make for better security decisions in the future, warns Jeremiah Grossman, a security researcher and chief of security strategy at SentinelOne.
"These figures see significant and subjective variation in what’s included, how things are counted, and more, which can largely throw off the numbers from one year to the next," he tells Dark Reading in an email. "And of course cybercriminals really don’t care how many reported vulns a particular product has, mostly because they only need one (or maybe a small handful) that’s wired into their exploitation tools for easy deployment."
Childs counters that it's important to understand how ZDI's list get compiled. "It's important to see how the list is created - these are the bugs coming through our program," he says. "They may not be representative of all the research going on… we don't do anything with mobile yet, for example. But if you look back at the last couple years, you can definitely see some trends," like Adobe's recurring presence.
Terry Sweeney is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered technology, networking, and security for more than 20 years. He was part of the team that started Dark Reading and has been a contributor to The Washington Post, Crain's New York Business, Red Herring, ... View Full Bio