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In-depth

Web app security patches: Closing the risk window

Web application vendors are taking, on average, 11 days to provide critical fixes. Davey Winder thinks that's still too long...

Like many things, there's both good news and bad news to be delivered here. The good news is that vendors are now patching vulnerabilities much faster than they were a year ago, according to research from the High-Tech Bridge Security Research Lab.

Indeed, average patch times have been reduced by one third. The not so good news, however, is the same study reveals it is still taking vendors an average of 11 days to fix 'critical' security vulnerabilities, 12 days for 'high risk' and 13 days for 'medium risk' ones.Those vulnerabilities that fall into the low risk category, but are still a risk nonetheless, take an average of 35 days to patch.

The researchers found that, despite the introduction of better coding practices which make uncovering serious vulnerabilities in mature apps much harder, decent enough application security was being compromised by basic mistakes and previously so-called 'unexploitable' vulnerabilities were being compromised by new DNS exfiltration techniques.

During the course of 2013, the High-Tech Bridge Security Research Lab released a total of 62 security advisories which detailed a total of 126 vulnerabilities, impacting mainly well-known web applications. Such a volume of issues has the potential to hit several million live websites.

IT Pro spoke to Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of High-Tech Bridge, about his companies research. "It's important to distinguish between different types of software products. At High-Tech Bridge we saw open-source products, entirely supported and developed by a community of enthusiasts, who patched serious security vulnerabilities in their products within a few hours overnight," he says. 

However, he admits that the company also saw huge commercial firms who bill their end-users for security, and who didn't even bother to reply within a week. "Another important point to mention is the different levels of complexity in vulnerabilities" Kolochenko says "some vulnerabilities (e.g. XSS) can take half-an-hour to patch, others (e.g. XSRF of Authentication Bypass) may take several days for a large application." Which means that it's not always possible to compare the absolute time to patch, and every project will have its own priorities and goals.

That didn't stop Kolochenko telling IT Pro he considers it "unethical when commercial products don't really care about the security of their customers." Kolochenko insists that some SMBs or open source projects were more competent in patch-development than their international competitors with offices in several countries.

"For me, the biggest question is not even the average time of patch, but the percentage of effort, time and attention the vendor devotes to the security of his product," he concludes. 

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