More than a few database administrators will likely spending at least part of their Labor Day weekend installing the security patches Oracle Corp. released Tuesday, or if not, they should be, according to one database administrator.
“I expect a lot of database administrators will be applying these patches over the next few days or over the long weekend coming up — myself included,” said Michael Wessler, a Web and database administrator with Perpetual Technology Inc., a consulting firm in Indianapolis.
On Tuesday, Oracle released its first monthly bundle of security patches that address more than 30 vulnerabilities discovered by Next Generation Security Software Ltd. between January and February. The patches also cover another 20 loopholes that were recently discovered by Application Security Inc.
The patches are a high priority because they address critical vulnerabilities that have to be fixed sooner rather than later, Wessler said. This is especially true for Perpetual Technologys government clients, which include the U.S. Department of Defense, he said.
Wessler said he is particularly concerned that the patches involve virtually all of Oracles currently released database and Web application server products including Oracle 10g.
“What scares us the most,” he said, is that to exploit the Oracle security loopholes, hackers dont need a valid network account— they only need to access a target corporate network. “It makes you think that any bad guys out there can get onto your system no matter what kind of security you have imposed as long as they can get onto your network,” Wessler said.
The patches address a number of vulnerabilities, and it will likely take a considerable amount of time to implement and test them, he said. “It would have been nice if Oracle would have provided a little more detail in the official documentation” about the potential dangers of the loopholes and about how the patches specifically address them, he said.
“I know I would prefer that they were providing these patches as they find them” rather than release them all at once, said Wessler.
Another concern is whether installing the patches will be a straightforward process, he said. “This is a rush job—we have to apply these patches quickly. There is going to be a concern about whether these patches have any bugs themselves,” he said.
“The danger seems so high we are just going to have to accept the risk and apply these patches,” said Wessler.
However, the head of another Oracle database consulting company said that implementation of the patches seems “fairly straightforward” and shouldnt cause any major problems.
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Issuing the patches in one set “is a favorable approach. Instead of applying multiple one-off patches they have bundled multiple issues—I think that is more helpful,” said Richard Niemiec, CEO of TUSC, an Oracle consulting firm based in Chicago.
It shows that Oracle is focusing on the process fixing vulnerabilities and releasing patches in an efficient way, Niemiec said. “This is a good example of that,” he said.
However, he conceded that the vulnerabilities are severe and database administrators will have to implement them quickly with a thorough round of testing before they go live. “This is a common thing in the life of an administrator” and shouldnt cause any major stress, Niemiec suggested.
Oracle users also need to work more closely with Oracle. Its better for Oracle users to work the companys security experts to solve these problems “rather than stand up at a conference to announce to the world” about the discovery of new security loophole.” said Niemiec, who is also former president of the International Oracle Users Group.
It doesnt help to publicly disclose these loopholes before Oracle has a chance to develop and release a fix. “If you really want to help, you are going to take it to [Oracle] first,” he said.
Another database administrator said he didnt believe there was a major concern that Oracle databases were highly insecure before the patches were released this week.
“The patches are important, but doesnt mean the database isnt secure,” said Craig Read, IT director at M-Trilogix Inc., an enterprise software provider based in Toronto. Oracle has “a secure product [and] a good team working on security issues,” said Read, who is also president of the Toronto Oracle Users Group.
However, he believes that Oracle could be more proactive about getting information out on a more timely basis. For example, Read said Microsoft Corp. has done a better job of alerting customers about vulnerabilities in Windows and about the patches to fix them.
“Oracle is very much reactive now,” Read said. But this major patch release “is the first step in the right direction” that gives Oracle a chance to be more proactive at tracking security vulnerabilities and fixing them on a regular basis.
He also suggested that this is a good time for Oracle to tone down the marketing rhetoric that its database is the most secure and the best in the world. “People are tired of that,” Read said. It would be better if Oracle just continues to acknowledge security problems when it finds them and promptly issues a patch. “People would appreciate that more than just saying, We are unbreakable, ” Read said.