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Microsoft, Oracle get busy plugging security holes

By Gregg Keizer; Jaikumar Vijayan
October 20, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. each dropped a bevy of software patches on their users last Tuesday, with Microsoft issuing 11 updates to plug a total of 20 security holes and Oracle releasing 36 separate fixes.

Microsoft's monthly batch of patches was designed to fix vulnerabilities in Windows, Office, Internet Explorer and other products. The company rated 11 of the flaws as "critical," its highest severity level, while eight were pegged as "important" and one as "moderate."

The patch release also marked the launch of Microsoft's Exploitability Index, which gauges the likelihood that attackers will be able to exploit the various vulnerabilities within 30 days. Eight of the 20 flaws received the highest ranking -- meaning the development of consistently functional exploit code for them is likely.

Microsoft announced plans to add the exploitability predictions in August, saying that the index was designed to help users prioritize their patching plans.

But that "doesn't mean that the enterprise can do less work," cautioned Andrew Storms, director of security operations at software vendor nCircle Network Security Inc. Storms said that in the initial index, it looked like Microsoft had "put together a pretty good view into the future, based on the data they had."

Oracle, which issues its patches quarterly, released a smaller-than-usual -- though still plentiful -- number of fixes last week. Of the 36 flaws that were patched, 11 can be exploited remotely, the company said.

In many cases, though, companies -- especially large ones -- are reluctant to bring down production databases to install new patches. Many are also wary about deploying untested patches in live database environments. As a result, there is usually a considerable lag time between when a patch becomes available from Oracle and when it gets widely deployed.

In fact, Sentrigo Inc., a vendor of database security software, polled 305 Oracle database administrators between August 2007 and last January and found that two-thirds of them apparently weren't installing Oracle's security patches at all. Such practices can leave companies dangerously exposed to attacks , said Slavik Markovich, Sentrigo's chief technology officer.

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

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Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



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