Software Vulnerabilities Continue to Climb Despite Focus on Security

The number of software flaws reported in 2016 continued to climb, especially the most severe issues, which topped 24 percent of all vulnerabilities, according to the latest data.

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While software security has continued to gain attention as a serious issue, and despite a greater variety of tools available to identify and prevent vulnerabilities, the number of security holes—especially critical issues—continued to climb in 2016, according to data released by security metrics firm Risk Based Security.

In 2016, the company identified 15,000 vulnerabilities, up from 14,982 in 2015. Of those issues, 24 percent were considered critical—rating 9 to 10 on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System V2—one way of grading the security risk of software flaws. Another 17 percent fell into the high-severity category, ranked 6 to 8 on CVSSv2. Nearly half of all vulnerabilities could be exploited remotely.

The data shows that software development continues to outpace security, Jake Kouns, chief information security officer for Risk Based Security, told eWEEK.

“We are spending all this time and effort and money on security, but we are not seeing a decrease in vulnerabilities,” he said. “You would think with all the money being spent, things would be getting better, but they are not.”

Security companies, such as Risk Based Security, are carving out a niche as data collectors, promising the best and most current picture of the security landscape. While vulnerabilities tracked by the Common Vulnerability Enumeration database, which is intended to be an encyclopedia of discovered issues, has fallen over the past two years from a high of 9,088 in 2014, RBS’s vulnerability count has climbed every year since 2011.

One of the most significant trends is the increase in paid vulnerability research. In 2016, 904 vulnerabilities were found by independent vulnerability researchers, either as part of a third-party program, such as the Zero Day Initiative, or as part of a vendor-sponsored bounty. The Department of Defense, for example, launched its “Hack the Pentagon” competition in 2016. That’s up from 219 in 2013.

One of the leaders in bounty programs, Google, had 1,125 vulnerabilities publicly reported in 2016, according to RBS’s data. Only Oracle—a company often taken to task by security researchers—had more vulnerabilities reported, 1,288.

Such information is important for companies that need to estimate the total cost of using a particular software platform, RBS’s Kouns said.

“Our goal is to look at how a vendor can handle response, and turn that into (conclusions about) how a vendor cares about security … and figure out what vendors and what products are putting my organization most at risk,” he said. “We all know that there is a big cost of ownership when vulnerabilities come out.”

The company also found that Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) vulnerabilities found industrial process control systems—which declined in 2013 and 2014—had taken off once again, reaching 438 reported flaws in 2016.

The best defensive measures are also the simplest. More than 80 percent of software security issues could be fixed either through upgrading the affected software or by patching the specific software component, the company said.