British bug hunter finds 34 flaws in Oracle apps

Claims Oracle should have patched them sooner, but Oracle users not concerned

Oracle's ongoing effort to portray itself as a vendor of "unbreakable" technology received a setback last week when a British bug hunter disclosed that he had found 34 security vulnerabilities in its products.

The flaws include several that could allow malicious attackers to gain complete administrative control of compromised database servers, claimed David Litchfield, managing director of Next Generation Security Software

"They include buffer overflows, SQL injection issues and a whole range of other minor issues," said Litchfield. He said that he reported them to Oracle in January and February following his discovery.

"Some of them can be exploited without a user ID and password, while others require them," Litchfield said. He refused to provide further details of the flaws, citing his concern that doing so before patches are distributed could pose a security risk for users.

Some users defended Oracle's security record.

"I'm always very concerned about any flaws," said Howard Muffler, director of enterprise services at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. But the university, which licenses a wide range of Oracle products, has had few security issues with them so far, Muffler said. "Oracle has always done a very good job of addressing security flaws and addressing them swiftly," he said.

Oracle is "incredibly quick to respond to any security issue," agreed Rich Niemiec, former president of the International Oracle Users Group and chief executive of TUSC, a Chicago-based consultancy. "There will always be issues that arise, given the complexity of the software," but Oracle has been diligent in finding and fixing them, he said.

According to Litchfield, Oracle told him that patches were available to fix the problems a few months ago. But the company appears to be waiting for an updated patching process to become ready before releasing the fixes, he said.

"It is my opinion that they could have run the old patching process up until the time that the new patching procedure was ready. There really is no point in exposing users to unnecessary risks," he said.

Oracle last week confirmed the existence of the flaws but refused to provide any further details. A company spokeswoman said Oracle had fixed the flaws and would issue a security alert "soon."

"Security is a matter we take seriously at Oracle, and while we stand firmly behind the inherent security of our products, we are always working to do better," she said.

News of the latest flaws came about two months after Oracle warned users of a major flaw in its Oracle 11i E-Business Suite and Oracle Applications 11.0 that could let attackers take control of the underlying database.

Even so, Oracle's database is by "leaps and bounds" more secure than competing products, said Don Burleson, president of Burleson Consulting in Kittrell, North Carolina, and author of several books on the security of Oracle products. He said the newly disclosed flaws are unlikely to pose an immediate threat. "Litchfield has made it his life's mission to find flaws in Oracle's technology," Burleson said, adding that most of the flaws are obscure and not easy to find.

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