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Security Woes Up, as PHP and OSS Make the List

Software vulnerabilities are up this year, especially Web browser-based ones, according to a new report from IBM Internet Security Systems. The X-Force 2008 Mid-Year Trend Statistics Report, released in late July, defined the problem broadly. A vulnerability is anything that results "in a weakening or breakdown of the confidentiality, integrity, or accessibility of the computing system."

Topping the list of companies reporting the most vulnerabilities were such tech mainstays as IBM, Microsoft, Apple and Cisco Systems. Microsoft had the third most reported vulnerabilities. However, an interesting dimension to this year's report is that open source software (OSS) or free software groups, such as Mozilla's Firefox, WordPress and Joomla, also made the list of programs with security holes in them.

Larger entities such as Microsoft or IBM make the list because of the volume of software they produce, explained Tom Cross, an X-Force researcher at IBM Internet Security Systems.

"Companies that make a lot of software are subject to more disclosures," Cross added. "But we're seeing for the first time that community-developed open source such as the Drupal and Joomla content management software packages for the Web also showed up on the list."

Drupal and Joomla are both OSS packages that have both been vulnerable to recent SQL injection attacks.

Overall, the study tracked more than 3,534 disclosed vulnerabilities in software for the first half of the year, finding a five percent increase compared with the first half of 2007. Leading the list of vulnerabilities were malicious spam, phishing and different strains of malware. The nearly 80-page report found that so-called "high risk" vulnerabilities were on the rise.

A big concern of the report was the use of the PHP scripting language, which was associated with many vendor-identified vulnerabilities.

PHP is mainly used by Web developers to help create dynamic Web pages. According to the PHP Group, a research organization, PHP was installed on more than 20 million Web sites and one million Web servers as of April 2007. It is doubtless double that amount now.

The Web is emerging as the most common vector hackers are using these days for entry into networks, as well as to deliver malicious software. The report's findings confirm other research saying that attacks against trusted Web sites are up.

Moreover, hackers seem to be keeping up with security bulletins. The report concludes that 94 percent of public exploits affecting Web browser bugs were released on the same day as the public security notice.

About the Author

Jabulani Leffall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times of London, Investor's Business Daily, The Economist and CFO Magazine, among others.

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