Most Oracle database shops don't mandate security patch use

Oracle, IOUG find that only 32 percent of surveyed users require patching of all or some systems

A continuing lack of corporate mandates to quickly install Oracle's security patches may be leaving many Oracle database installations exposed to vulnerabilities for extended periods of time, according to survey results released on Wednesday.

In a pair of online surveys that were jointly conducted between May and August of last year by the International Oracle Users Group (IOUG) and Oracle, only 26 percent of the 150-plus respondents said that their companies required the software vendor's quarterly patch update to be applied on all systems as soon as they're released.

Another 6 percent said they're required to install Oracle's Critical Patch Updates (CPU) on critical systems only, the IOUG and Oracle wrote in a report. Meanwhile, 30 percent said their companies didn't have any specific policies in regards to Oracle's patches, while 32 percent said their policies required database administrators to do either risk or cost-benefit analyses in order to justify the installation of patches in production databases.

In addition, the survey results showed that most of the respondents were months or even more than a year behind Oracle's patch releases. Only 30 percent said they typically installed patches before the vendor released its next CPU, according to the report. Twenty-five percent said they were one cycle, or three to six months, behind in installing the patches, while 26 percent said they were two to four cycles behind. Another 11 percent said they hadn't installed any of Oracle's patch updates on their systems.

Oracle, which initiated its quarterly patching schedule in early 2005, typically issues dozens of patches across its entire product suite as part of the CPUs. But applying patches to production databases is a complex and time-consuming task that can require months of labor and significant system downtime - leaving many companies slow to install CPUs or reluctant to do so at all.

While the new survey results are likely to raise some alarms from an IT security standpoint, they're actually better than the ones contained in a report released early last year by Sentrigo, a vendor of database security tools. Sentrigo reported that more than two-thirds of the Oracle DBAs it polled over a six-month period - 206 out of 305 - said they had never installed an Oracle patch on their database servers, no matter how critical the vulnerabilities that were being patched.

Nonetheless, the apparent fact that many companies haven't even set policies for dealing with Oracle's CPUs is somewhat startling, especially considering that databases often are the most valuable corporate assets within businesses, said Ian Abramson, the IOUG's president.

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