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Rise in severe vulnerabilities highlights importance of software updates

  • Tim Rains

In the context of computer security, vulnerabilities are weaknesses in software that could allow an attacker to compromise the integrity, availability, or confidentiality of either the software itself or the system it’s running on. Some of the worst vulnerabilities allow attackers to exploit the compromised system by causing it to run malicious code without the user’s knowledge. The effects of this can range from the annoying (experiencing unwanted pop-up ads) to the catastrophic (leaking sensitive customer information).

For this reason, disclosing vulnerabilities to the public as they are found is an important part of the software industry. It’s an effort that goes well beyond the software companies who develop the code. Disclosures can come from a variety of sources, including publishers of the affected software, security software vendors, independent security researchers, and even malware creators.

Attackers and the malware they create routinely attempt to use unpatched vulnerabilities to compromise and victimize organizations, so it’s imperative that CIOs, CISOs and the rest of an organization’s security team pay close attention to disclosures as they are announced. Doing so can help the security team understand if their IT environment is at increased risk, and whether putting new mitigations in place is warranted.

Industry-wide vulnerability disclosures each half year into the second half of 2015
Industry-wide vulnerability disclosures each half year into the second half of 2015

This year the importance of tracking disclosures was highlighted as vulnerability disclosures across the industry increased 9.4 percent between the first and second half of 2015, to almost 3,300.

Even more troubling, disclosures of high-severity vulnerabilities increased 41.7 percent across the industry in the second half of 2015, to account for 41.8 percent of the total — the largest share for such vulnerabilities in at least three years.

These are the vulnerabilities that security teams dread as they enable attackers to gain easy access to software, PCs, devices, and servers. For organizations that work with sensitive customer data or that must comply with security regulations to maintain contracts, the results of such an infection are potentially dire.

Vendors with a known vulnerability in their products will generally issue a patch to close the door, so staying abreast of those updates is a critical concern for security professionals. With over 6,000 vulnerabilities publicly disclosed per year across the industry, it’s important that organizations assess all software in their IT environment and ensure that it is updated.

For an analysis of vulnerabilities disclosed in the latter half of 2015, take a look at our latest Security Intelligence Report and the information available through the NVD. And for a high-level look at the top 10 trends and stats that matter most to security professionals right now, be sure and download our 2016 Trends in Cybersecurity e-book.

Learn more at Microsoft Secure.