3/30/2008

Who Patches Bugs Faster, Apple or Microsoft?

Filed under: — By Aviran Mordo @ 9:15 am

Apple’s teasing commercials that imply its software is safer than Microsoft’s may not quite match the facts, according to new research revealed at the Black Hat conference on Thursday.

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology looked at how many times over the past six years the two vendors were able to have a patch available on the day a vulnerability became publicly known, which they call the zero-day patch rate.

They analyzed 658 vulnerabilities affecting Microsoft products and 738 affecting Apple. They looked at only high- and medium-risk bugs, according to the classification used by the National Vulnerability Database, said Stefan Frei, one of the researchers involved in the study.

What they found is that, contrary to popular belief that Apple makes more secure products, Apple lags behind in patching.

“Apple was below 20 [unpatched vulnerabilities at disclosure] consistently before 2005,” Frei said. “Since then, they are very often above. So if you have Apple and compare it to Microsoft, the number of unpatched vulnerabilities are higher at Apple.”

It’s generally good for vendors to have a software fix available when a vulnerability is disclosed, since hackers often try to find out where the problem is in order to write malicious software to hack a machine.

For a vendor to have a patch ready when the bug is detailed in public, it needs to get prior information from either its security analysts or external ones. Otherwise the vendor has to hurry to create a patch, but that process can be lengthy, given the rigorous testing needed to test the patch to ensure it does not conflict with other software.

Apple only started patching zero-day vulnerabilities in late 2003, Frei said.

 

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