Zero day, Web browser vulnerabilities spike in 2014

Secunia found that overall more than 83 per cent of vulnerabilities had patches ready when the flaws became public

The number of zero-day and Web browser vulnerabilities shot up in 2014, but overall software vendors are patching faster.

The data comes from Secunia, a Danish security vendor that releases an annual study of trends in software vulnerabilities, which are used by hackers to compromise computers.

Zero-day vulnerabilities -- which are software flaws actively being used by attackers when publicly disclosed -- rose from 14 in 2013 to 25 last year. Those type of flaws are among the most dangerous and prized by attackers since patches aren't available from vendors.

Flaws in Web browser software increased to 1035 in 2014, up from 728 the prior year, according to Secunia's report.

But the good news is that vendors are moving faster to fix flaws. Secunia found that over 83 percent of 15,435 vulnerabilities found in ,870 applications had a patch available when a flaw was publicly disclosed.

That's compared to 78.5 per cent in 2013 and much better than in 2009, when only 49.9 per cent of products had a ready patch.

"The most likely explanation is that researchers are continuing to coordinate their vulnerability reports with vendors and their vulnerability programs, resulting in immediate availability of patches for the majority of cases," according to the report.

But Secunia found that if a patch wasn't ready on the day a flaw was disclosed, it is likely that vendors weren't going to prioritize a fix. The percentage of products that had a patch ready a month after a flaw was disclosed only rose to 84.3 per cent.

Secunia also looked at PDF software, which is frequently targeted by hackers since nearly every computer has it installed.

Adobe Systems' PDF applications are among the most attacked on the Internet due to their prevalence. Secunia said Adobe's Reader program, which has a market share of 85 per cent, had 43 vulnerabilities last year.

In recent years, Adobe has undertaken an aggressive program to scan its application code for security problems and generate patches quickly when problems are found.

Secunia found that 32 percent of computers it surveyed with data from its Personal Software Inspector, which checks the version number of programs, did not have an up-to-date version of Adobe's Reader, putting users at risk.

The company also looked at vulnerabilities in open-source software, an increasing security concern after several serious vulnerabilities were found in the OpenSSL cryptographic software.

The first serious OpenSSL vulnerability, nicknamed Heartbleed, caught many off guard due to its potential impact and the wide variety of programs that use it. Secunia thought vendors might be quicker to patch OpenSSL after subsequent problems were found last year.

That wasn't the case, though. Many vendors did not patch faster for other OpenSSL flaws post-Heartbleed, the report said.

"Organizations should not presume to be able to predict which vendors are dependable and quick to react when vulnerabilities are discovered in products bundled with open-source libraries," Secunia said.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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