Take Advantage of Oracle's Ongoing Assurance Effort!

Hi, this is Eric Maurice again!

A few years ago, I posted a blog entry, which discussed the psychology of patching. The point of this blog entry was that a natural tendency existed for systems and database administrators to be reluctant to apply patches, even security patches, because of the fear of "breaking" the system. Unfortunately, this belief in the principle "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" creates significant risks for organizations. Running systems without applying the proper security patches can greatly compromise the security posture of the organization because the security controls available in the affected system may be compromised as a result of the existence of the unfixed vulnerabilities. As a result, Oracle continues to strongly recommend that customers apply all security fixes as soon as possible.

Most recently, I have had a number of conversations with customers who questioned the need to upgrade their highly stable but otherwise unsupported Oracle systems. These customers wanted to know more about the kind of security risks they were exposed to, by running obsolete versions of Oracle software.

As per Oracle Support Policies, Critical Patch Updates are produced for currently supported products. In other words, Critical Patch Updates are not created by Oracle for product versions that are no longer covered under the Premier Support or Extended Support phases of the Lifetime Support Policy.

One statement used in each Critical Patch Update Advisory is particularly important:

"We recommend that customers upgrade to a supported version of Oracle products in order to obtain patches. Unsupported products, releases and versions are not tested for the presence of vulnerabilities addressed by this Critical Patch Update. However, it is likely that earlier versions of affected releases are also affected by these vulnerabilities."

The purpose of this warning is to inform Oracle customers that a number of the vulnerabilities fixed in each Critical Patch Update may affect older versions of a specific product line. In other words, each Critical Patch Update provides a number of fixes for currently supported versions of a given product line (this information is listed for each bug in the Risk Matrices of the Critical Patch Update Advisory), but the unsupported versions in the same product line, while they may be affected by the vulnerabilities, will not receive the fixes, and are therefore vulnerable to attacks.

The risk assumed by organizations wishing to remain on unsupported versions is amplified by the behavior of malicious hackers, who typically will attempt to, and sometimes succeed in, reverse-engineering the content of vendors' security fixes. As a result, it is not uncommon for exploits to be published soon after Oracle discloses vulnerabilities with the release of a Critical Patch Update or Security Alert.

Let's consider now the nature of the vulnerabilities that may exist in obsolete versions of Oracle software.

A number of severe vulnerabilities have been fixed by Oracle over the years. While Oracle does not test unsupported products, releases and versions for the presence of vulnerabilities addressed by each Critical Patch Update, it should be assumed that a number of the vulnerabilities fixed with the Critical Patch Update program do exist in unsupported versions (regardless of the product considered). The most severe vulnerabilities fixed in past Critical Patch Updates may result in full compromise of the targeted systems, down to the OS level, by remote and unauthenticated users (these vulnerabilities receive a CVSS Base Score of 10.0) or almost as critically, may result in the compromise of the affected systems (without compromising the underlying OS) by a remote and unauthenticated users (these vulnerabilities receive a CVSS Base Score of 7.5). Such vulnerabilities may result in complete takeover of the targeted machine (for the CVSS 10.0), or may result in allowing the attacker the ability to create a denial of service against the affected system or even hijacking or stealing all the data hosted by the compromised system (for the CVSS 7.5). The bottom line is that organizations should assume the worst case: that the most critical vulnerabilities are present in their unsupported version; therefore, it is Oracle's recommendation that all organizations move to supported systems and apply security patches in a timely fashion.

Organizations that currently run supported versions but may be late in their security patch release level can quickly catch up because most Critical Patch Updates are cumulative. With a few exceptions noted in Oracle's Critical Patch Update Advisory, the application of the most recent Critical Patch Update will bring these products to current security patch level and provide the organization with the best possible security posture for their patch level.

Furthermore, organizations are encouraged to upgrade to most recent versions as this will greatly improve their security posture. At Oracle, our security fixing policies state that security fixes are produced for the main code line first, and as a result, our products benefit from the mistakes made in previous version(s). Our ongoing assurance effort ensures that we work diligently to fix the vulnerabilities we find, and aim at constantly improving the security posture our products provide by default. Patch sets include numerous in-depth fixes in addition to those delivered through the Critical Patch Update and, in certain instances, important security fixes require major architectural changes that can only be included in new product releases (and cannot be backported through the Critical Patch Update program).

For More Information:

• Mary Ann Davidson is giving a webcast interview on Oracle Software Security Assurance on February 24th. The registration link for attending this webcast is located at http://event.on24.com/r.htm?e=280304&s=1&k=6A7152F62313CA09F77EBCEEA9B6294F&partnerref=EricMblog

• A blog entry discussing Oracle's practices for ensuring the quality of Critical patch Updates can be found at http://blogs.oracle.com/security/2009/07/ensuring_critical_patch_update_quality.html

• The blog entry "To patch or not to patch" is located at http://blogs.oracle.com/security/2008/01/to_patch_or_not_to_patch.html

• Oracle's Support Policies are located at http://www.oracle.com/us/support/policies/index.html

• The Critical Patch Update & Security Alert page is located at http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/topics/security/alerts-086861.html

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