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'Big one' coming for Oracle database users?

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Oracle users could be headed for a Microsoft-scale hack or a major database breach as master criminals begin to target valuable business systems.

That's the verdict of a UK database security consultant who's warned those running legacy versions of Oracle in particular are at risk from attack.

David Litchifield, managing director of Next Generation Security Software, said Oracle must shake up its system of patching databases to ensure users remain protected.

"There is a potential for a big one," Litchfield told The Register. "In terms of the little vandal - they will go for Microsoft. The professional hacker is going to break into a database server, (he) wants to steal 100,000 credit cards - he will go after the money."

Of particular concern is the number of unprotected versions of Oracle in use - especially version 8.1.7.4. Litchfield's Database Exposure Survey last year found 140,000 installations of Oracle are unprotected and could become hosts for a worm. Such databases have unfixed vulnerabilities like an arbitrary library loading issue with external procedures that could be exploited by an attack vector.

Litchfield was speaking as his company released its latest report on vulnerabilities in Oracle - dangling cursor snarfing. That followed recent publication of a report by fellow security consultant ESG Lab that claimed investments by Microsoft in SQL Server mean it's "years ahead" of Oracle in the security field.

Litchfield has criticized Oracle in the past for not moving quickly enough to fix such security holes, while being attacked by the database giant for allegedly putting customers at risk by releasing details of holes.

According to Litchfield, Microsoft still remains a target of hackers and disgruntled employees, but the difference is Microsoft has shifted its focus on SQL Server from purely new features to place greater emphasis on security. He approves of Microsoft's reliable delivery of patches.

"People who say no-one is looking at Microsoft anymore - that's nonsense, everyone wants to hack Microsoft. The fact they aren't finding bugs says Microsoft has done a good job," Litchfield said.

While Oracle has made improvements in security, such as releasing patches every three months, there's room for improvement. "They do need to shake things up in certain respects. They know they have bugs, and they are fixing them. Where they fail is in the advisories and the quality of the patches," Litchfield said.

He voiced optimism that procedures in place at PeopleSoft, known for good security and acquired by Oracle last year, could rub off on Oracle.®

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