SANS Reveals Top 20 Vulnerabilities

The latest list from the SANS Institute warns of 12 new holes that pose a critical threat to organizations that do business on the Internet.

The SANS Institute issued an update to its annual list of the Top 20 Internet security vulnerabilities on Monday, warning of 12 new holes that pose a critical threat to organizations that do business on the Internet.

The new vulnerabilities were culled from more than 600 security flaws discovered in the first three months of 2005. Holes in Microsoft Corp.s software dominate the list, but SANS also warned about security flaws in popular anti-virus and media player applications, as well as the Domain Name System.

/zimages/1/28571.gifThe rise in phishing attacks and other scams is driving interest in technology to lock down the DNS. Click here to read more.

The release is the first quarterly update to the annual list, which many organizations use a benchmark to evaluate their network security, said Alan Paller, director of research at SANS.

"We decided that the Top 20 list gets out of date too quickly. A lot organizations use this to measure whether theyre being careful about vulnerabilities, so it has to be kept up to date," he said.

Vulnerabilities had to meet certain criteria to be put on the list, such as affecting many Internet users and allowing computers to be taken over by a remote, unauthorized user, according to SANS.

The holes also had to have been patched in the first three months of 2005, Paller said.

"We dont like to tell about vulnerabilities that arent fixed," Paller said. "It helps the bad guys too much."

SANS worked with the private sector to compile the list, including researchers from TippingPoint Inc., an intrusion prevention system company, and Qualys Inc., a software vulnerability management company.

Holes in products from Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft dominate the list of new vulnerabilities, including a problem with PNG (Portable Network Graphics) file processing that allows remote attackers to use the MSN Messenger instant messaging program to take over vulnerable systems, and security flaws in IEs handling of ActiveX and image files.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about recent worm attacks on the MSN IM network.

The IE holes are particularly dangerous because they are frequently being used to place spyware and other malicious code from Web pages onto Windows systems without the knowledge of the user, said Gerhard Eschelbeck, chief technology officer at Qualys.

However, the damage isnt limited to Redmond. Software from leading security software vendors Symantec Corp., F-Secure Corp., McAfee Inc., and Trend Micro Inc. is also on the updated list. The warning follows revelations of buffer overflows in those products that could allow remote attackers to take control of the systems running the anti-virus software.

"We think its important that security companies pay attention to the security of their own products," Paller said.

Popular media player software, including RealNetworks Inc.s RealPlayer and Apple Computer Inc.s iTunes also have security vulnerabilities that warrant attention from network administrators, even if the programs arent officially sanctioned for use at work, Paller said.

"People think of these as noncritical software and may not pay attention to updating them," he said.

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