Third-Party Software Bugs Pose Big Danger, Secunia Finds

Secunia concludes that a mistaken belief that Microsoft and the operating system are the primary attack vectors has caused some organizations to let their guards down when it comes to security for third-party applications. Software vendors need to do a better job of making it easy for users to update their computers, Secunia said.

Secunia is calling out application vendors for poor updating practices and reminding users that third-party software vulnerabilities-and not bugs in the operating system-are the main targets of attackers.

In the Secunia Half Year Report 2010, (PDF) the company says it found that the number of vulnerabilities affecting the average end-user PC reached 380, almost 90 percent of the total (420) found in all of 2009. On average, 10 vendors-including heavyweights Microsoft, Apple and Oracle-are responsible for 38 percent of all vulnerabilities, Secunia said. Apple led the way and the other four companies with the most vulnerabilities were Oracle, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Adobe Systems.

For PC users, the threat of unpatched third-party apps is not abating. According to Secunia, a typical end-user PC with 50 programs installed had more than three times as many vulnerabilities in the 24 third-party programs than in the 26 Microsoft programs installed.

This trend, the report stated, is supported by the fact that users and businesses "still perceive the operating system and Microsoft products to be the primary attack vector ... this leads to incomplete patch levels of the third-party programs, representing rewarding and effective targets for criminals."

"At this point nothing indicates that we will see a lower frequency of reports for the remainder of the year, but that is naturally only speculation," Thomas Kristensen, chief security officer of Secunia, told eWEEK.

The company's list of non-Microsoft programs with the most vulnerabilities between June 2009 and June 2010 is topped by Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Sun Java JRE. The rest of the list is rounded out by Google Chrome, Adobe Reader, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Flash Player, Adobe AIR, Apple iTunes and Mozilla Thunderbird.

Since many third-party applications lack an easy-to-use update mechanism and there is often a lack of awareness on the part of users about security patches, targeting third-party applications will continue to be rewarding for attackers, the researchers wrote.

Vendors need to ensure that their patches "are easily available and apply smoothly without much [or] any user interaction," Kristensen said. "In the longer term they need to write more secure software, but still provide [a] good patch distribution and updating mechanism."