[ISN] Vulnerability tallies surged in 2006

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Sun Jan 21 2007 - 22:26:43 PST


By Robert Lemos
21 Jan 2007

Flaws in Web applications boosted the bug counts for 2006 by more than a 
third over the previous year, according to data obtained by 
SecurityFocus from the four major vulnerability databases.

On Monday, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination 
Center released its final tally of the number of flaws the organization 
processed in 2006. Counting both public sources and private submissions 
directly to the CERT Coordination Center, the group logged 8,064 
vulnerabilities last year, an increase of 35 per cent over the number of 
flaws reported in 2005.

The three other major flaw databases - the National Vulnerability 
Database, the Open-Source Vulnerability Database, and the Symantec 
Vulnerability Database - recorded jumps anywhere from 20 to 35 per cent 
in 2006 compared to 2005.

The greatest factor in the skyrocketing number of vulnerabilities is 
that certain types of flaws in community and commercial Web applications 
have become much easier to find, said Art Manion, vulnerability team 
lead for the CERT Coordination Center.

"The best we can figure, most of the growth is due to fairly 
easy-to-discover vulnerabilities in Web applications," Manion said. 
"They are easy to find, easy to create, and easy to deploy."

The burgeoning flaw counts for 2006 should come as no surprise to most 
security researchers. A jump in the number of vulnerabilities recorded 
by the same four databases in 2005 had also been blamed on easy-to-find 
bugs in web applications. In the first half of 2006, more than three 
quarters of all software flaws affected online applications, according 
to security firm Symantec, the owner of SecurityFocus. And a report 
released in October by the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) 
Project found that the top-three categories of flaws were specific to 
Web programs and accounted for 45 per cent of the bugs reported in the 
first nine months of the year.

Simply searching through source code or using Google code search can 
turn up a large number of potential security issues, allowing even 
novice flaw finders to pinpoint possible security holes. The maintainers 
of the flaw databases have been inundated with submissions found by 
would-be vulnerability researchers who use simple string-matching 
programs find potential issues in open-source applications, said Steven 
Christey, the editor of the CVE Project maintained by The MITRE Corp., a 
non-profit government contractor.

"Many people are doing 'grep and gripe' research," Christey said, 
referring to the flexible search program grep commonly part of Unix-like 
systems. "They are doing a regular expression search, looking for 
patterns. If they get a match they will report it to the public, but 
sometimes what ends up happening is they are reporting false positives."

While novices are focusing on Web applications, other researchers have 
started focusing on other parts of the operating system as well as 
popular applications. Tools, known as fuzzers, have become an 
increasingly popular way to check software for problems caused by the 
input data given to the program. Such tools have been so successful in 
finding flaws that some researchers have resorted to the controversial 
tactic of releasing a bug every day for an entire month to garner 
attention to the issues.

"You have an emerging levels of sophistication for vulnerability 
researchers," Christey said. "You have a lot of people who are able to 
find the low-hanging fruit. But for major software, it seems to be 
getting more difficult for top researchers to find these issues - they 
have to work harder, spend more time, spend more resources, (and) do 
more complex research."

Web flaws boost bug counts

Easy-to-find vulnerabilities in Web applications significantly boosted 
the number of flaws found in 2006, exceeding the previous year by 
anywhere from 20 percent to 50 per cent.

  	       2006   	2005 	2004 	2003 	2002 	2001
CERT/CC        8,064 	5,990 	3,780 	3,784 	4,129 	2,437
NVD 	       6,604 	4,877 	2,367 	1,281 	1,959 	1,672
OSVDB 	       8,500+* 	7,187 	4,629 	2,632 	2,184 	1,656
Symantec       4,883 	3,766 	2,691 	2,676 	2,604 	1,472

* OSVDB has estimated from data processed so far that there will be at 
  least 20 per cent more vulnerabilities logged in 2006 compared to 

Sources: Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC), 
National Vulnerability Database, Open-Source Vulnerability Database, and 
the Symantec Vulnerability Database.

The surge in vulnerabilities in 2006 does not necessarily mean that the 
Internet is a less safe place for computer users.

Many of the Web applications in which flaws were found are community 
projects not typically used by major companies, said Brian Martin, 
content manager for the Open-Source Vulnerability Database.

"For the personal sites and the mom-and-pop stores that rely on the 
software, it certainly affects them," Martin said. "But larger companies 
likely aren't affected."

Applications written in the popular dynamic Web programming language, 
PHP, appeared to account for 43 percent of the total vulnerabilities 
reported in 2006. The language is typically used in community-created 
software and smaller Web sites, but a number of notable Internet giants, 
such as Yahoo! and Google, also use PHP.

While Web applications may account for the boost in vulnerability 
numbers, the smaller number of flaws found in operating systems and 
client-side applications typically pack a bigger punch.

"From a core operating system standpoint, we are more secure, but the 
reality is that malicious code has not gone away," said Oliver 
Friedrichs, director of security response for Symantec. "Malware is 
still getting on your system, it is just not using core operating system 
vulnerabilities to do it."

And, while they make up a small fraction of the overall number of 
vulnerabilities, previously unknown - or zero-day -flaws targeted by 
active attacks became a big trend in 2006, Friedrichs pointed out.

"The real threat with a zero-day is they are frequently used in a very 
targeted fashion against companies and enterprises to steal information, 
where a simple web vulnerability on the Internet does not have as much 
of a material impact," he said.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright 2007, SecurityFocus

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