Though it might not seem that way, the top 10 most vulnerable software vendors — and, yes, that includes Microsoft — are contributing a smaller percentage of vulnerability disclosures now than they were five years ago.
That’s according to an analysis by Gunter Ollmann, director of security strategies at IBM’s internet security systems X-Force team. Ollmann, who crunched vulnerability data gathered by X-Force between 2002 and 2006, says the overall percentage of security flaws disclosed by the most vulnerable software vendors dropped from 20.2% in 2002 to 14.6% during that period. Much of that decrease is likely the result of improved quality assurance and testing processes by the most vulnerable software vendors, Ollmann says. Most of their software packages have been through multiple versions and have been combed thoroughly for vulnerabilities by security researchers, Ollmann says.
According to Ollmann, the most vulnerable vendors typically have also been the biggest and those with the largest installed bases. Traditionally, security researchers and hackers have gone after vendors with the biggest installed bases.
As larger vendors begin to do a better job of locking down their software, hackers and software researchers have begun focusing their attention on newer vendors and their applications, which has resulted in an overall increase in the number of vulnerabilities being reported, Ollmann says.
In the past five years, the list of the most vulnerable vendors has consistently included Microsoft, Cisco Systems, IBM, Sun Microsystems and the Linux Kernel Organisation, Ollmann says. Others on the list for 2006 were Oracle, Apple, Mozilla and Adobe Systems.
Together, these vendors accounted for 964 vulnerabilities in 2006, or roughly 14% of the total disclosed by all vendors. The remaining 85% or more were accounted for by smaller vendors. For instance, nearly 1,000 vulnerabilities were reported by relatively small vendors of PHP applications, he says.
Ollmann concedes that the vulnerabilities reported by the top 10 are likely to have affected a far larger number of people than a majority of the flaws reported by smaller vendors. At the same time, it is also true that the larger vendors by and large have been doing a better job in fixing reported flaws, he says.
Out of the top 10 vendors, only 14% of the publicly reported flaws remained unpatched in 2006, while 65% of all other publicly reported flaws remain unpatched. Larger vendors are also likely to have better mechanisms in place for detecting flaws and alerting customers than the smaller ones, he says.