Software Security: Fewer Vulnerabilities In 2011
There was a decline in the number of software security vulnerabilities disclosed to the public, as well as the proportion of flaws that were exploited. Is secure development paying off?
Cyberattackers had significant success in compromising companies in 2011, but a common vector of attack--exploited software vulnerabilities--could actually be on the decline.
The number of vulnerabilities disclosed publicly will fall in 2011, compared to the previous year, and far fewer flaws have been used to fuel attacks, according to early data from companies that collect vulnerability information.
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Symantec, for example, expects to see a 30% drop in the total number of software vulnerabilities disclosed to the public this year, and a 10% decline in the number of critical vulnerabilities released to the public, according to its data. On an annual basis, the company typically documents some 4,500 to 5,500 flaws, though 2010 saw an exceptional 6,253 flaws reported. The company could see the lowest level of vulnerabilities reported in the past six years. IBM's X-Force security research team has seen a similar trend.
A possible reason for the decline: The focus of companies, such as Microsoft and Adobe, on secure development could be eliminating much of the easy-to-find vulnerabilities, said Joshua Talbot, security intelligence manager for Symantec. "If an attacker knows that a particular platform has security mitigations and that exploitation is going to be difficult, the attackers may decide to not even go down that route," Talbot said.
In addition, attackers could be dissuaded by the fact that Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, as well as many of the applications that run on those platforms, have been rebuilt with security features that make exploitation more difficult. While attackers continue to focus on vulnerabilities in Adobe Acrobat, Oracle's Java, and Microsoft's Office, security researchers have put increasing effort into auditing more niche software, such as industrial-control systems, automotive systems, and mobile devices.
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