To patch or not to patch - that is the question for many software customers. And it's particularly tricky one to answer when the software company won't say what the patch is for, as one reader discovered with a recent Critical Patch Update released by Oracle for PeopleSoft.
"On October 18, I received an e-mail notification from Oracle/PeopleSoft that they released new path levels for their products that contain critical fixes, urging that we install them," the reader wrote. "For the company I work for, this meant upgrading our PeopleTools release from 8.46.10 to 8.46.16. Over the years we've been running PeopleSoft, we've learned that we can't just take them at their word because we have always experienced some transitional instability and performance hits in the past with PeopleTool upgrades, without exception. We simply do not update the software unless there is a pressing need that addresses known, specific issues that affect our implementations."
"I opened a support case to learn the details behind the critical issues Oracle was concerned about with the patch," the reader wrote. "Details were not -- and are not -- available on their website. I received an e-mail directing me to information on their website that gave no specific information about the nature of the critical fixes. I then called and wound up speaking with a support manager."
The Oracle support manager told the reader it was against Oracle policy to provide the information he needed for his risk assessment. "As a matter of policy, Oracle does not disclose detailed information about an exploit condition or results that can be used to conduct a successful exploit," the Oracle manager told him in one e-mail. "Oracle will not provide additional information about the specifics of vulnerabilities beyond what is provided in the CPU or Security Alert notification, the Patch Availability Matrix, the readme files, and FAQs."
The reader pleaded that without more information he could not possibly do the risk assessment his company naturally wanted to do before making its decision. As he wrote the Oracle support manager: "Please understand that some managers at some companies expect their IT people to provide justifications for why and when critical patches are or are not implemented. I work for just such a company and yes, I do have management seeking explanations in regards to this PeopleTools patch ... We cannot plan on diverting IT resources to implementing these patches without this information so that we can perform our own risk analysis. I hope that merely mentioning the name Microsoft conjures specters of failed patches and thousands of hours spent by thousands of IT professionals around the world futilely attempting to keep their systems properly patched."