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10/20/2006
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Is Oracle Downplaying Security Vulnerabilities?

In its most recent 101-flaw patch, Oracle for the first time rated the severity of the threats using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System, a 10-point scale used by other vendors including Cisco. But the switch meant some of the scores were skewed, some researchers say.

Is Oracle playing the security spin game? Several researchers who reported vulnerabilities to the vendor during its latest software patch cycle think so.

As Oracle prepares to kick off its OpenWorld conference in San Francisco this week, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based vendor is facing questions over the threat ratings it published for the 101 software vulnerabilities fixed last week in its quarterly patch release.

For the first time, Oracle rated the severity of the threats using the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), a vendor-neutral 10-point threat rating scale that's designed to replace proprietary scoring systems and clarify the true impact of vulnerabilities. Cisco Systems, Qualys, Nessus and Skype are among the early adopters of CVSS.

By switching to the new system, Oracle said it was responding to customers who've been asking for clearer and more detailed information in the patch releases. Oracle also began indicating whether a vulnerability can be exploited remotely, whether authentication is required, and how difficult it is to exploit. Despite the move, security experts who Oracle credited with discovering the vulnerabilities say the CVSS scores the vendor assigned to the flaws are way too low.

"I have no doubt that Oracle is downplaying the seriousness of the vulnerabilities," said Esteban Martinez Fayo, a security researcher with New York-based vendor Application Security.

David Litchfield, managing director of U.K.-based Next Generation Security Software, says several of the 22 vulnerabilities in Oracle's Database productsmost of which address SQL injection or buffer overflow issuesshould have been given higher scores.

For example, Oracle rated a flaw in the SDO_3GL component of Oracle Database as 1.4 on a 10-point scale, and also indicated that a successful exploit of the vulnerability wouldn't compromise confidential data or affect the integrity of the database, according to Litchfield.

"This is nonsense," Litchfield said. "If an attacker can run arbitrary code as the Oracle user, an attacker can do whatever they want."

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