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Tuesday Patchapalooza

“Wait, didn’t I effing just patch that?” That was my initial reaction this morning, when I read about another Adobe Flash security update. Having just updated my systems Sunday, I was about to ignore the alerts until I saw the headline from Threatpost: Deja Vu: Another Adobe Flash Player Security Update Released:

Adobe released its regularly scheduled security updates today, including another set of fixes for its ubiquitous Flash Player, less than a week after an emergency patch took care of two zero-day vulnerabilities being exploited in the wild. … The vulnerabilities were rated most severe on Windows, and Adobe recommends those users update to version 11.6.602.168, while Mac OS X users should update to 11.6.602.167.

But that’s not all: Microsoft’ Patch Tuesday bundle included 57 fixes, and in case you missed it, there was another Java update last week, with one more on the way.

I want to make a few points.

  • The most obvious one is that there are a great many new critical security patches, most of which are actively being exploited. Even if you patched a few hours ago you should consider updating. Again. Java, Flash, and your MS platforms.
  • As we spiral in on what seems to be ever shorter patch cycles, is it time to admit that this is simply the way it is going to be, and that software is a best-effort work in progress? If so, we should expect to patch every week.
  • What do shorter patch cycles mean to regression testing? Is that model even possible in today’s functional and security patch hailstorm? Platforms like Oracle relational database still lag 18 to 24 months. It’s deep-seated tradition that we don’t patch until things are fully tested, as the applications and databases are mission critical and customers cannot afford downtime or loss of functionality if the patch breaks something critical. Companies remain entrenched in this mindset that back-office applications are not as susceptible to 0-day attacks and things must remain at the status quo ante.
  • When Rich wrote his benchmark research paper on quantifying patch management costs, one of his goals was to provide IT managers with the tools necessary to understand the expense of patching – in time, money, and manpower. But tools in cloud and virtual environments automate many of the manual parts and make patch processes easier. And some systems are not fully under the control of IT.

It is time to re-examine patch strategies, and the systemic tradeoffs between fast and slow patching cycles.

—Adrian Lane

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