Patching times improved in 2013 as vulnerability battle goes on

Report finds improvement but is is enough?

Software vendors have improved their response to security flaws in the last 12 months but some still take too long to patch the highest-risk vulnerabilities, figures from Swiss testing firm High-Tech Bridge have suggested.

Comparing 2012 to last year, the firm found that critical flaws were now being patched in 11 days (up from 17), while medium and low-risk flaws were now being fixed in 13 and 25 days respectively (as against 29 days and 48 days).

This means that the average time to patch has fallen across categories from 27 days to 18 days, a 33 percent improvement.

These statistics are based on the 62 security advisories released by High-Tech Bridge through its ImmuniWeb SaaS testing service, covering 162 vulnerabilities, so the reported improvement is indicative rather than definitive.

More than half of the flaws in web apps were cross-site scripting (CSS) issues, with SQL injection in second place on 20 percent. Mature products tend to have less of these issues, the firm said, suffering more from cross-site request forgery and user-identity spoofing.

The most flaw-prone web applications during 2013 were content management and publishing systems, with in-house applications accounting for 40 percent of XSS and CSS flaws uncovered by High-Tech Bridge during penetration testing. Plugins made up another 30 percent of issues, and small CMS systems 25 percent. The largest systems such as WordPress and Joomla - whose vulnerabilities will cause the most serious problems because of their popularity - made up the final five percent.

High-Tech Bridge CEO, Ilia Kolochenko, argued that 11 days was still too long to patch serious flaws but did note:

"General awareness within vendors about the importance of application security is growing, with vendors finally taking security seriously. In the past, even well-known vendors postponed security-related fixes in favour of releasing new versions of their software with new functionality and unpatched vulnerabilities.

Is 11 days fast enough? Probably not. As patching times improve so do exploit times, holding the industry in a struggle to close a window that always seems remain wedged open. Even when flaws are patched that doesn't mean they are applied quickly, or in some cases, at all.

"However, in 2013, no big vendor adopted this dangerous approach of prioritizing functionality while sacrificing security and only three of the 62 security advisories released by us in 2013 remained unpatched," he said.

There are still areas of concern, especially among CMS systems. "It is important to say that about 90 per cent of large and medium-size commercial and open-source CMSs prone to XSS and SQL injection attacks are vulnerable because they are not up-to-date or are incorrectly configured," said the firm's CRO, Marsel Nizamutdinov.

The future of software testing was to combine automated scanning with manual code review by a human, he said.

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