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Oracle is to start ranking the severity of security bugs it fixes using an industry-standard scoring system starting with its next quarterly patch update, due on 17 October.

The database giant will grade the threat posed by the bugs it fixes using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS). It has also promised to give an easy-to-understand execuctive summary of the flaws it has addressed, highlighting bugs that lend themselves to remote exploitation by hackers. In the past, Oracle published an internally developed risk matrix (example here) along with its quarterly patch cycle but this is to be sidelined if favour of a simpler - and clearer - method of explaining the relative importance of security bugs.

The changes are designed to make it easier for database admins and other users' of Oracle's enterprise software applications to assess the severity of security bugs within their environment and thereby make more informed decisions about how to prioritse security remediation work. That's clearly important because the last two quarterly security updates brought fixes for 65 and 36 flaws respectively, creating plenty of scope for confusion about the relative importance of these various fixes.

"Oracle introduced these changes as the result of feedback we received from many of our customers," Eric Maurice, manager for security in Oracle's Global Technology Business Unit, said in a blog posting. "We hope that these changes will help our customers assess the criticality of the vulnerabilities resolved with each CPU and help them obtain patching decisions from their senior management more quickly."

The changes make sense but fail to address one of the main criticisms of Oracle's security practices - its perceived tardiness in developing security fixes. Oracle has come under fire in the past from security researchers, such as Red Database Security and NGS Software, over the time it takes to release security updates. For example, Red Database Security published information on six flaws in July 2005 after becoming frustrated with a lack of an official security update from Oracle more than 650 days after it notified the software giant about serious flaws. ®

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