Patch management flubs facilitate cybercrime

Failures in patch management of vulnerable systems have been a key enabler of cybercrime, according to the conclusions reached in Solutionary's annual Global Threat Intelligence Report out today, saying it sees botnet attacks as the biggest single threat.

The managed security services provider, now part of NTT, compiled a year's worth of scans of customers' networks gathered through 139,000 network devices, such as intrusion-detections systems, firewall and routers, and analyzed about 300 million events, along with 3 trillion collected logs associated with attacks. Solutionary says it relies on several types of vendor products for these scans, including Qualys, Nessus, Saint, Rapid7, nCircle and Retina.

Solutionary also looked at the latest exploit kits used by hackers, which include exploits from as far back as 2006. Solutionary found that half of the vulnerability scans it did on NTT customers last year were first identified and assigned CVE numbers between 2004 and 2011.

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"That is, half of the exploitable vulnerabilities we identified have been publicly known for at least two years, yet they remain open for an attacker to find and exploit," Solutionary said in its Global Threat Intelligence Report. "The data indicates many organizations today are unaware, lack the capability, or don't perceive the importance of addressing these vulnerabilities in a timely manner."

It wasn't uncommon to find it took an organization up to 200 days to bring things up to snuff in terms of remediation and patch management. "There's kind of a throw it over the wall' mentality," says Don Gray, chief security strategist at Solutionary, noting vulnerability-assessment information wasn't being acted upon effectively in organizations, although networks segmented according to the Payment Card Industry (PCI) regulations were somewhat better maintained.

The Solutionary report also notes that effective log monitoring remains a challenge for several reasons. Customers are required to provide details about the devices, platforms, applications and databases they have when asking for log monitoring, Solutionary points out. But during and after this "discovery process," about half of organizations realize there are IT assets they didn't even know about. In addition, one third of the organizations have some of this IT infrastructure configured "in a manner that does not provide the security information required to meet their needs."

That's important not just because it's related to compliance, such as PCI rules, but because system and application logs are valuable and "underutilized" security resources for detecting an attacker has gotten inside the network.

However, incident response is also a weak spot, according to the report. In responding to client incidents last year, Solutionary found that 77% of the organizations involved had no incident response teams or procedures in place to respond effectively to a significant cyber incident, the report says. The remaining 23% has some incident response planning available, but "very few were mature or well-managed."

Solutionary expressed considerable skepticism about the value of anti-virus software in its report, saying 71% of the new malware it collected from its own honeypot-type sandboxes went undetected by more than 40 anti-virus products. Nevertheless, Solutionary wasn't advocating abandoning anti-virus entirely but instead advised it should be "augmented" by other types of security.

In terms of types of attacks faced by organizations, botnet activity aimed against the organization was the largest type, constituting 34% of all attacks, with the remainder parceled out to denial-of-service attacks, application-specific attacks, service-specific attacks and "network manipulation," such as DNS attacks, along with other "suspicious" attacks.

Solutionary said there seems to be little in the way of standalone malware these days, with most malware designed to communicate with command-and-control servers operated by cyber-criminals to steal important information.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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