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Application Updates Tops Cyber Security Risk, Real World Fix is More Complex September 17, 2009

Posted by fvter in Security, Technology.
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A few days ago, SANS released it’s new Top Cyber Security Risks report with a new interesting twist to the usual well-explored risks (such as web server vulnerabilities). The new risk that is highlighted quite effectively is the problem of application vulnerabilities which have had an increase and become much more visible. A good example of this has been the ongoing reports of vulnerabilities in Adobe products such as Flash and Acrobat.

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Part of the issue that is highlighted by the report is the slow turn-around to deploy application patches/updates to reduce the risks and fix certain vulnerabilities. This is in fact no surprise! Having spent a number of years in the corporate IT security environment the application update process is a bigger dilemma than one might think. There a number of factors that impede an effective and complete application patching process be it for a few thousand  to 10’s or 100’s of thousands of an installed client base. Some of these issues can be highlighted by the three following concepts:

  • Online availability of clients to receive the updates, making it more difficult to get an effective deployment rate;
  • Patches for versions that are in-use might not exists and upgrading to new versions presents other challenges such as budgets, compatibility with other applications, continued functionality support for the business solutions;
  • Patches (or upgrades) can break or change features that are relied upon by business solutions or process effectively breaking the latter and presenting an impediment on business ability to work effectively.

For a corporate IT security team a balance has to be achieved between the need to carry out effective patching or upgrading versus the need to let the business continue to work as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is the hard truth, patching to mitigate vulnerabilities is not necessarily the best solution for a business if it breaks functionality or impedes the business process!

An effective IT security team will understand this and works towards an acceptable compromise that balances the risks versus the business’ ability to carry on efficiently through policies and process that mitigate the risks or control/patch the vulnerabilities. Notably, the report section on best practices for mitigation and control provides a number of effective risk management techniques that start by understanding the applications that present risks and building an effective defense plan…

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