Security Patching for People

The updating of application and operating system software is a common phenomenon with individuals and organisations keen to reduce to zero-day threat impact that exists when a security vulnerability is still unknown to the software vendor.  Obviously, once the vulnerability has been identified, a new hotfix, patch or service pack is released which can reduce or remove that threat window which may have been exploited during that 'zero-day' phase.

There are countless warning centres for specific operating systems and platforms that aim to identify vulnerabilities to existing versions and in turn provide guidance on how to remove the vulnerability.  In general, software vendors nearly always recommended environments are patched to the most recent stable release in order to provide the best possible support.  In many scenarios support agreements can become quickly invalid or at least support withheld, if an environment is not at the most recent patch level.  All fairy straight forward.

However, as the main entry point to the most pieces of software is the end user, there seems a disproportionate amount of time spent on patching the environment and not the end user.  Software in general, is often not used or configured in the way the designer or developer meant.  In some circumstances this results in the end user being dissatisfied with a particular feature or product as they believe it doesn't perform in the way they expect.  Iterative development and continual open communication regarding the usability can overcome this during the early part of a release cycle.

However, the main concern can be when a miss-interpreted feature or configuration results in a security vulnerability.  A firewall rule set is incomplete, a default password is being used, a port is left open, a policy is incomplete, access not set-up correctly and so on.  All of which can leave critical sensitive data open to attack.  This can become more of an issue with complex middleware products (the security glue that is perhaps managing data transfers, directory linking, backend web access control and so on) which are continually evolving and changing.

From an everyday perspective, the regular employee is a key component of the information data flows and in truth security processes that exist to help protect corporate data.  Whilst what they do within a particular application or feature is important, their complete attitude, awareness and approach to information security is altogether more important.

Here is where the training and awareness aspect is vitally important.  Awareness and access to an updated security policy, regular trainings and workshops are important as well as a basic understanding of things like physical security (tail gating) and to counteract the increasing threat from social engineering.

As threats and attack vectors continually change each  year, as should the training and awareness of employees to understand the key risk areas that will directly effect them, and more importantly, what they can do at the individual level to help counteract those threats.

(Simon Moffatt)