Java, Flash and Reader still PC admins' biggest security headaches

Better than 2013 but still not good enough

Most admins already know that Java and Adobe's Flash and Reader are the most vulnerable pieces of software on the average Windows PC. A new analysis from Heimdal Security suggests that while 2014 has been better than last year vendors and customers remains pretty snowed under by the number of vulnerabilities in these programs.

Looking at the last three years to 2014 (so far), it becomes obvious that 2013 was an extreme outlier, showing soaring public vulnerability numbers, in particular for Java, which reached a stunning total of 180.

Acrobat was also bad with 66, and Flash Player with 56, compared to 16 and 36 for 2014 so far. It looks as if Flash Player is doing better and Reader far better on these scores but only in relative terms.

The numbers of vulnerabilities revealed each month has also reduced somewhat, almost back to 2012 levels, even if Java has managed to record 90 in 2014 with some months still to go. But the average CVSS (Common Vulnerability Scoring System) rating for these flaws remains high at between a 7 and a 9 across these programs.

Heimdal slightly eccentrically calculated the average number of vulnerabilities discovered before a patch appears for any given flaw (a rough measure that is not of course the same as actual patching time), working out that for Java in 2014 the figure was 18, while for Flash and Reader it was four each. This implies that the drip of patches is still not keeping up with the volume of public flaws.

Combine these numbers and it's clear that while the volume of flaws has gone down a bit and patching seems to be getting quicker, the improvement is not good enough to make a major dent in the security-worthiness of systems. PCs are potentially still open to numerous flaws at any one time.

Java, in particular, is a headache, so much so that it should probably be removed from every and any system that doesn't need it.

"Our intelligence data from the last 3 years, shows that more than 99 percent of computers running on Windows operating systems are likely to use either Java, Acrobat Reader or Flash Player," said Heimdal's CEO, Morten Kjaersgaard.

"These three pieces of software are almost constantly suffering from vulnerabilities with a severe vulnerability score on the CVSS scale of 7 or above. Not only that our analysis also indicates an alarmingly slow patching rate from manufacturers," he said.

Vulnerabilities don't tell the whole story, for example how many are exploited in real attacks. But there is a relationship between the vulnerability of software and the likelihood of that happening.

"Software manufacturers such as Oracle, Adobe and Apple need to step up their game in patching software quickly and software users need to take into consideration that they are left on their own with wide open computers at the moment."

Heimdal didn't even look at the other source of flaws on Windows platform, browsers, which is a shame - Internet Explorer suffered a record bad patch for vulnerabilities according to one recent report.

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