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Oracle trips on TNS zero-day workaround

Oracle has a problem. And it’s summed up pretty well by the current uproar over the lack of a patch for a zero-day vulnerability in the Oracle TNS Listener. It’s the same problem Microsoft had a decade ago, and the same problem Adobe also has when it comes to security fixes. It’s this perception of arrogance Oracle gives off when serious security issues become public as this one has.

Oracle won’t patch a zero-day in its flagship database management system, and instead offered a workaround with the promise of fixing the vulnerability in the product’s next release. Swish that one around for a while: Oracle won’t patch a zero-day.

And to top it off, the vulnerability in question was reported to Oracle four years ago. In its April Critical Patch Update (CPU), Oracle finally got around to addressing the problem and did so with a workaround. Unfortunately for Oracle, the researcher who reported the vulnerability, Joxean Koret, misunderstood and believed a patch was available, so he spilled the beans on the vulnerability on the Full Disclosure list. The TNS Listener Poison Attack involves a man-in-the-middle attack that could hijack connections, route data from the client to the attacker where data could be stored, dropped or modified via SQL commands. Bad stuff.

According to Ray Stell, a database administrator at Virginia Tech University, the workaround suggested in the CPU is fairly simple to deploy. “You stop the listener, apply a configuration command and edit another configuration file and you’re up and running,” Stell said. Stell has a busy time ahead of him having to patch, er fix, er apply the workaround, to 40 Oracle boxes in his department alone.

The worst-kept secret in database security circles is that companies are very reticent to take database servers down for patching. Few can afford the downtime, much less the testing required to determine whether a patch will break functioning processes. It’s an unacceptable risk for most enterprises.

What should be unacceptable is Oracle’s continued thumbing of its nose toward security. Oracle said it won’t fix the vulnerability until the next full release because, according to its alert: “such back-porting is very difficult or impossible because of the amount of code change required, or because the fix would create significant regressions…”

Experts say the available workaround will keep Oracle installations secure against working exploits. Long term, however, Oracle needs to have its come-to-Jesus moment on security. It needs its version of Trustworthy Computing, which put Microsoft on a better course securing Windows and its other products. Unbreakable was a huge misstep in 2001, putting a massive target on the company’s software that guys like David Litchfield made a living on for a long time.

Publicly tripping over a zero-day vulnerability and working exploit code is just another indication that Oracle doesn’t entirely get it when it comes to security. Too bad, because it’s about time it did.

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