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By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-08-02 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Another reason for the lack of upset is that at least some of the scarier-sounding bugs, while causing initial consternation, turned out to be extremely difficult to exploit. Mike Wessler, an Oracle consultant with Perpetual Technologies Inc., said that his research into Kornbrusts security advisories on Oracle Forms and Oracle Reports showed that the flaws in question were only exploitable if a system were already compromised. "[The flaws] sound very, very scary, of course," Wessler said. "But as we looked into it, it looked like, to take advantage of those, a bad guy would have already had to have placed a malicious report or form on the system, so the system would already have been exploited. So basically, you have to already have been able to get on the machine to start out with. So its not as bad as the initial threat stated."
The Oracle Forms and Oracle Report vulnerabilities allow malicious users to run any operating system command or to read or write on any file system. In lieu of Oracle having yet put out a CPU that includes patches for these particular flaws, Kornbrust offers workarounds in his advisories.
But, Wessler said, those workarounds cant be applied injudiciously. "You have to be careful they dont disable functionality for current applications," he said. "[The flaws enable hackers to] utilize tools and utilities and options for bad purposes, and you can disable them, but you have to make sure your applications arent using those options ahead of time. And also, once again, [the workarounds are] dependent on [the fact] that somebody hasnt put a malicious report on the machine." Should flaws that are so difficult to exploit have been published in the first place? Should Oracle patch faster than it does? As far as finger-pointing goes, Wessler said he cant find fault with either party. "One guy wants to make [flaws] public to see action. Oracle on the other hand has its own internal processes, and they cant address these threats if it would break other applications," he said. "The knee-jerk reaction is to get angry with Oracle at letting these risks come out. But that would be an incorrect action. "With these particular threats, good management of servers will take care of problems more than any bug fix," he said. In order to be at risk in the first place, you almost have to "give all users super-user powers," he said. "Whos to blame, the user or the account administrator?"
But as far as the quality of patching goes, Wessler admitted that Oracles faulty patches put more work on the plate for administrators and forces system upgrades at organizations that otherwise would be unwilling to upgrade. "Its forcing an issue," he said. "Many companies and agencies are under mandates to apply security patches when they come out. We have many customers being forced to apply critical patch updates whether they want to or not. So its really adding a lot more work for them" when they have to patch patches, he said. "These brought to light the fact that many dont operate on the latest and greatest software releases, and now people are being forced to update quarterly, and thats causing some stress," he said. At any rate, Wessler said, Oracles CPUs are improving. Julys CPU was restructured with regard to how some pieces of the application server are patched vs. the database, and the OPatch utility has made things much easier, he said. OPatch is a utility that checks to see what patches have already been applied to both the database and application server. It then rolls back the old patch sets and reapplies the new patch sets. Another thing making Oracle patching easier in general is that users are more experienced with the CPUs at this point and know what to expect, Wessler said. Specifically, theyre aware that before patches are applied, software has to be "fairly recent." "If I were running an old version of 9i application server, to get the latest and greatest patch set, Id need to upgrade to the latest 10g application server," he said. "Upgrading is difficult, but once at that level and maintaining it, applying patch sets isnt difficult," he said. For his part, Goulet admits that Oracles reluctance to back-port patches "can be a real irritant," along with the possibility of a patch resurrecting a previously cured bug. But his real problem, he said, isnt with Oracle—its with users who wont give up their production databases for the patching process. "Its worse that getting Great White shark teeth from the living sharks," he said. "Actually, the sharks are more merciful—they dont like to keep you living in pain so long." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest database news, reviews and analysis.


 
 
 
 
Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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