To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Patch Tuesday this month, we take a quick look at how Microsoft’s update format changed the IT landscape.
Experienced system administrators will know all about the days before Patch Tuesday. Without any prior warning, IT departments would receive sudden notification that new security fixes were available, usually corresponding with a sudden sense of pressure to drop everything they were doing and apply them.
Yet for those who already suffer a rather hectic schedule or just aren’t necessarily fond of the unexpected, somewhat random events like this throughout the month would undoubtedly cause disruption. Customers began to voice their concerns, and Microsoft subsequently came up with a change of plan.
Patch Tuesday is launched
October 2003 saw the inaugural release of Patch Tuesday, with Microsoft announcing that patches will follow a uniform schedule every second Tuesday of the month. Combined with the Microsoft Security Bulletin Advanced Notification System, customers were able to effectively plan the deployment of security patches having been made aware of the number of updates, software affected and security levels of the vulnerabilities, usually around 3 business days in advance.
The new format for updates was largely well received. The uniformity, in combination with the Advanced Notification System and the Exploitability Index, which ranks the level of threat which each vulnerability poses, allowed administrators a degree of maneuverability when it came to security updates.
Patch Tuesday even became ubiquitous enough to have several other well-known brands join in with their own separate updates on the second Tuesday of the month, such as Adobe.
However, this isn’t to say that Patch Tuesday hasn’t had its critics.
Leaving fixes for vulnerabilities tucked away until the scheduled date has its obvious security risks, particularly with ever more sophisticated cyber-criminals upping their game in their attempts to take advantage of any holes in IT infrastructure. This can potentially leave vulnerabilities ‘in the wild’ for up to a month before a patch is released, which is probable if an individual were to discover and sit on an exploit until the day after Patch Tuesday.
This leads me to what has affectionately come to be known as Exploit Wednesday, albeit for different reasons to the above.
After release, you can be sure that a significant number of questionable individuals are looking through the details of every security fix with a fine-tooth comb in order to unravel and develop an exploit for the now-public vulnerability, going on to target those who aren’t so quick to patch their systems; cue the moniker ‘Exploit Wednesday’.
With all that said, Microsoft aren’t going to just sit back and let cyber-criminals run rampage across the internet. Microsoft are known to fast-track updates for more serious vulnerabilities as they are ready, in addition to the occasional release on the fourth Tuesday of the month, helping customers keep on top of security.
So on the whole, ten years on from its first employment; Patch Tuesday has largely been a resounding success. Despite the flaws, the scheduling and advanced notifications have provided a more systematic way to keep Microsoft software regularly up to date, and everybody likes a bit of predictability in these matters.
2013 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report
Avecto have compiled a report which analyzes Microsoft Security Bulletins for the year 2013, which found that 92% of Critical vulnerabilities would be mitigated by removing admin rights across an enterprise. Download the full report for more information.