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SANS unveils top 20 security vulnerabilities

The list gives companies a starting point for addressing critical issues

By Scarlet Pruitt
October 8, 2004 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - The SANS Institute, an IT security and research organization, today released its annual Top-20 list of Internet security vulnerabilities, offering organizations at least a starting point for addressing critical issues.
"When you tell your systems people to test for thousands of vulnerabilities, your enterprise comes to a stop. What the Top-20 does is give you a place to start your remediation each year," said SANS Director Alan Paller.
The SANS list is compiled from recommendations by leading security researchers and companies around the world, from institutes such as the National Infrastructure Protection Center and the U.K.'s National Infrastructure Security Coordination Centre.
The Top-20 is actually two lists of 10: the 10 most commonly exploited vulnerabilities in Windows, and the 10 most commonly exploited vulnerabilities in Unix and Linux.
Topping the Windows list are Web servers and services, while the Unix list leads with BIND domain name systems. Although each entry represents a sometimes broad category, the SANS document, which is more than 100 pages long, also drills down into specific security holes in the categories and provides instructions for correcting them.
Many of the vulnerabilities have made the list before, but there were some surprises this year, according Ross Patel, director of the Top-20 list.
Vulnerabilities in file-sharing applications and instant messaging, which ranked Nos. 7 and 10 on the Windows list, respectively, represent fairly new categories of risk, Patel said.
"There was almost unanimous concern among experts around file sharing and peer-to-peer," Patel said. As with IM, file-sharing applications are simple and operational in nature, and security concerns are often overlooked, Patel said.
Web browsers, at No. 6 on the Windows list, were another hot topic.
"Hands down, Web browsers for Windows were the topic that caused most of the harm, pain and passionate debate for experts from every continent," Patel said. With the number of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser prompting some security experts to suggest earlier this year that users switch to other browsers, list contributors were left wondering whether they should recommend the same, Patel said.
However, they finally decided that the move was too much to ask and that they should endorse securing whichever platform a user chooses.
In fact, for the first time, this year's list gives instructions on how to deal with flaws on various software platforms. "We tried to make the list as relevant as possible this year," Patel said.
According to Gerhard Eschelbeck, chief technology officer at network security firm Qualys Inc. and a list contributor, the Top-20 is widely used by organizations as a security benchmark.
"There is a consensus amongpeople from the industry and academia that this is the list of the most critical vulnerabilities," Eschelbeck said. "With 50 new vulnerabilities announced a week, or about 2,500 a year, the challenge is for companies to decide which ones they should be looking at. It helps them prioritize."
"Because there are a relatively small set of issues, you can give them to the systems administrators and give them a few months to get them done so they can be heroes," said the SANS Institute's Paller. "It makes sorting out the mess more reasonable."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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