Large numbers of companies using Cisco network equipment are still vulnerable to a single security vulnerability flaw nearly two years after a patch was issued, an analysis of network scans by Dimension Data for its 2011 Network Barometer Report has found.

 


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Overall, Dimension’s Technology Lifecycle Management (TLM) assessment service discovered that an average of 73 percent of the 270 assessments it carried out on Cisco-dominated global companies had at least one known device security vulnerability that had yet to be patched. This held true for companies of all sizes and across all geographies.

Surprisingly, a single prominent vulnerability, Cisco PSIRT (Cisco Product Security Incident Response Team) 109444, was found on 66 percent of the networks looked at, accounting for much of the security exposure it found.

PSIRT 10944 has been rated by the industry Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) as being between 6.4 and 7.8 out of 10 in terms of severity (which is to say, moderately critical), and capable of allowing an attacker to hit affected devices with a successful DDoS attack, said Dimension Data.

“To a hacker, a security vulnerability is equivalent to leaving one’s front door unlocked,” said Neil Campbell, Dimension Data’s global security manager. “And attempting to exploit vulnerabilities is usually the first port of call when initiating an attack. That’s because it may provide the hacker with full access to the device, which he could use as a launch pad to initiate further attacks internally.”

The prominence of Cisco in Dimension’s results is not surprising — the company is a prominent Cisco reseller. The issue is more whether companies buying Cisco products are patching their systems rapidly enough.

“Patching is a difficult process for corporates. It is not something they have yet incorporated into their culture,” said Campbell. Companies devoted most of their time to looking after vulnerabilities at the application layer, where most attacks occurred. Hardware vulnerabilities — even well-known ones — came further down the priority list, more so if they related to internal network devices seen as unrelated to security. “A vulnerability like this [PSIRT 109444] might exist for a year or more, or indefinitely,” he said.

Overall, the number of vulnerabilities identified by Cisco has fallen to 45 in 2010 from a peak of 65 in 2007. According to Dimension, only 20 percent of devices looked at were vulnerable to a further four reported Cisco flaws, which suggests that this single flaw is perhaps the exception to the rule. The number of Cisco products that had passed “last day of support” had also declined year-on-year.

The findings hint at two apparently contradictory themes, that of uniformity and complexity.

The uniformity derives from the commoditization of IT equipment over the last decade, which has left companies of all sizes, in all countries and in all business sectors using similar families of products which are therefore open to the same vulnerabilities, including PSIRT 109444.