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Unofficial zero-day patches gain corporate support

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SANS - Survey on application security programs

Organisations are deploying unofficial patches in the absence of officially sanctioned security fixes from vendors, a new survey suggests.

Around one in eight (13 per cent) customers quizzed by security vendor PatchLink deployed an unofficial third party patch when the zero-day Microsoft WMF (windows Meta File) exploit was discovered in January.

Three quarters of the 300 IT managers and network administrators worldwide questioned believe that patch cycles, like Microsoft's patch Tuesday, have improved their overall security patch and vulnerability processes. Forty-two per cent quantified the improvement as reducing the time they spent on patching, while 18 per cent reckon they've been able to reduce the number of employees they assign to patching thanks to greater certainty in the timing of patch releases.

However, many respondents in the survey want vendors to issue out-of-sequence security fixes in response to hacker attacks against unpatched flaws, rather than sticking to any pre-defined schedule. More than 50 percent of IT administrators want vendors to take a more flexible approach to releasing patches for zero-day exploits and maintain a monthly patch release date for unexploited vulnerabilities.

0-day third-party patches gaining favour

Zero-day exploits, which have been with us for years, have increased in profile over recent months. January's WMF exploit has been followed by an unpatched Internet Explorer security flaw, an official fix for which is not expected until 11 April (next Patch Tuesday, which falls on the second Tuesday each month).

The issue is far from confined to Microsoft, but the firm's software remains a high-profile target. This, together with the chance of some favourable publicity, encourages independent developers to release unofficial security fixes in response in unfixed Windows or IE flaws that become the subject of malicious hacking attacks.

PatchLink's survey reveals the release and deployment of third-party patches is becoming more accepted, even though many IT professionals still express reservations about this approach. According to the survey, 45 per cent of global respondents would consider using a third party patch, while the majority, 55 per cent, would not. In the UK, 69 per cent of respondents rejected third party patches as a sensible response to zero day threats.

Strategy boutique

With an ever increasing number of web-based applications and browser vulnerabilities, IT professionals are under increased pressure to deploy patches on tight deadlines. In the case of critical patches, 14 per cent of organisations surveyed plan to execute the patch roll out to all work stations within two hours, while 39 per cent of organisations ensure the patches are applied within eight hours. Two-thirds of organisations quizzed have set up an internal deadline for non-critical patch deployment - ranging from two days to two months.

The survey also identified strategies IT professionals find most helpful for mitigating the risk posed by unpatched vulnerabilities. Around 44 per cent of IT professionals find an established process to identify critical systems impacting all business applications most helpful, while 27 per cent said prioritising risk by asset classification was useful, and 22 per cent found that grouping patches by device helped them ward off zero day threats. ®

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