What's even more astonishing is that nearly every company I audit says it has patching under control -- but I've never audited a single computer or device that was fully patched. Yes, most of the time it is unpatched Java and Acrobat on client workstations and sometimes on servers. On servers, I often find outdated versions of server management software (which, incidentally, is often running Web server software). Routers and other network equipment are rarely patched. BIOSes are never up to date. Every appliance I touch is unpatched. Worse, it can be impossible to get up-to-date patches for appliances. It makes you wonder what an appliance is, anyway -- just software running on hardware that is harder to update?
When clients tell me they have everything patched, they mean that most of their Windows software is patched because Microsoft has been including autopatching mechanisms for more than a decade.
If you want to significantly reduce your computer security risk, become a better patcher. Patch all software with critical security patches within one week of the patch's release -- or quicker if there's an active, wormable exploit in the wild or if you fear an adversary might use it sooner. In general, more than 80 percent of all publicly known exploits have patches available on the day of the vulnerability's public disclosure.
To be honest, the fact that most computers have been exploited via unpatched software has held true for years. I have no idea why more companies aren't dropping every project on the books to tackle this problem. Instead, they blindly claim they're doing "good patching," then wonder why they keep getting exploited.
Stop whatever else you're doing. Check the patch status of your most critical computers. Check everything! Personally, I manually audit because I always find stuff left uncovered by automated tools. Granted, automated tools are great, especially when you're trying to get a general picture of your entire environment; they can certainly tell you how well Java and Acrobat are patched. But they tend to miss the less popular software, especially server management tools. To check your patching status, use a combination of automated and manual methods.
Work up your courage and pay a visit to you CIO. Ask the exec, "Did you know we could stop nearly 80 percent of attacks just by patching Java and Acrobat?" If he or she replies, "Yeah, I knew that," you can casually mention that those two pieces of software have not been patched consistently. If the CIO is unaware but commissions an action plan, you're a hero. If nothing happens either way, you can't say you didn't warn 'em.
This story, "Stop 80 percent of malicious attacks now," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in network security and read more of Roger Grimes' Security Adviser blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.