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Patchy response to reducing security exposure

Firms struggle to keep up with hackers - survey

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Enterprises have improved their patching practices over the last 12 months but two out of three (70 per cent) are currently vulnerable and in jeopardy of potential exploit or attack, according to a study by on-demand vulnerability management firm Qualys.

Qualys's third annual Laws of Vulnerabilities research shows organisations have improved patching processes on internal systems by 23 per cent and on external systems by 10 per cent. In the last year, the half-life of critical vulnerabilities (the time it takes users to patch half of their systems) for external systems has been reduced from 21 days to 19 days and from 62 days to 48 days for internal systems.

Vulnerabilities released on a predefined schedule (such as Microsoft's monthly Patch Tuesday) witnessed an 18 per cent increase in patch response. However, the time it take hackers to develop security exploits is also shrinking faster than the remediation cycle. The vast majority (85 per cent) of damage from automated attacks occurs within the first fifteen days from the outbreak. According to Qualys, 90 per cent of vulnerability exposure is caused by 10 per cent of critical security bugs, which frequently lend themselves to the creation of computer worms.

There has also been a significant shift from server-side to client-side vulnerabilities. More than 60 per cent of new critical vulnerabilities occur in client applications, such as web browsers.

"2005 has been the year of improvements for patching and updating vulnerable systems," said Gerhard Eschelbeck, CTO at Qualys. "This is heavily driven by the fact that vendors like Microsoft and others are now issuing regular advisories with patch updates, which ends up speeding the prioritisation and remediation efforts within organisations."

"There's still room for improvement in prioritising patching which, even allowing for time to test patches, can be brought down to 14 to 15 days. Industry developments such as improved remediation through programs such as Network Access Control can also reduce security exposure," he added.

Qualys's research is designed to identify network security trends and compare their remediation efforts with the rest of the industry. This year, the Laws of Vulnerabilities was drawn from a statistical analysis of nearly 21m critical vulnerabilities, collected from 32m live network scans, the largest sample to date. Full findings of the research can be found here. ®

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