[ISN] Data guardians swamped by hacking blitz

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Aug 10 2001 - 23:59:44 PDT

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    By Charles Babcock
    Interactive Week 
    August 9, 2001 11:24 AM PT
    System vulnerabilities--holes through which intruders may crawl inside
    your servers--are cropping up at a rate of six or seven per day, a
    pace that strains the resources of most system administrators,
    security experts say.
    Many such vulnerabilities are minor enough that I-managers can wait
    for them to be fixed in the next release of an operating system (OS)
    or Web browser. But some holes, such as the recently identified
    buffer-overflow exposure of Microsoft's Internet Information Server,
    can leave Web sites open to attack. Although the IIS vulnerability
    could easily be fixed with a patch that Microsoft posted June 18, a
    malicious worm called Code Red had no trouble propagating itself to
    250,000 unpatched IIS servers in nine hours when it was launched on
    July 19.
    The Code Red incident left little doubt that the most serious security
    risks for Internet businesses are not just the holes in the software,
    but also the time lag in closing them. A major hazard lies in the fact
    that a worm to exploit the IIS exposure was ready about four weeks
    after the patch was created--and during those weeks, many system
    administrators had not bothered to fix their systems.
    Hackers "are moving up the software stack" to the Web server, database
    server and application server, says Chris Rouland, director of
    X-Force, the research arm of security software vendor Internet
    Security Systems.
    In 1996, only about five new system vulnerabilities showed up each
    month. Today, there are 200 new vulnerabilities per month, Rouland
    says, and system administrators are hard-pressed to pay attention to
    those that most directly affect them.
    "It's an enormous number of patches to keep up with. I think it's a
    losing proposition" for many administrators, says John Garber, chief
    strategic officer of Cryptek Secure Communications, a security firm
    whose intrusion detection systems shield data and applications.
    Says Rouland: "There is a requirement for tools that automatically
    look for vulnerabilities," which might tell the administrator what
    patches are needed.
    Antivirus software suppliers such as McAfee.com and Symantec have long
    provided virus signature updates from their Web sites, and they can
    even automatically distribute those updates to corporate servers when
    a new virus is discovered. Customers then administer the updates
    themselves throughout their organizations from a centralized server.
    But OS and Web server vendors can't simply automatically update their
    products on customers' sites in the same way. Every site has its own
    configuration and set of applications running on the system, and
    customers want to test patches before loading them into their
    production environments, Garber says.
    The closest thing to automated patching comes from new security
    services that, for a fee, keep your systems up to date and protected.
    Security intelligence firms, including iDefense and Vigilinx, can
    provide such a service based on specific customer environments.
    "Administrators don't have to update their own systems," says David
    Endler, iDefense's practice manager. "We can find the patch and apply
    it across the organization with network management tools." IDefense's
    iAlert service costs $15,000 per year for a three-administrator
    But no matter how sophisticated automated processes are, says Jerry
    Freese, Vigilinx's director of intelligence, "there's still no
    substitute for human vigilance."
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