Stale Data Causes Security Issues

Security has become better and better in many organizations. At the same time, hackers and malicious actors are doing a better and better job of finding new ways to attack systems. Some work to target specific individuals, often because of government or industrial espionage. Most of us aren’t likely to deal with those issues, unless we work with (or are) someone that is very important in a particular situation.

Instead, many of us deal with wider spread attacks that look to exploit vulnerabilities in technology or humans at scale, hoping to find the weak links. Lots of people I know have dealt with viruses in the past that shut down systems, and more recently, had to rebuild systems crippled by ransomware.  Despite their best efforts, this often means lots of extra unexpected work, combined with the stress of falling behind on our commitments. We have plenty of other work to do.

Windows has been vulnerable throughout its history, and it appears, lately through a data problem. There is a class of attacks that look to use approved, though old and unpatched, drivers as a vehicle for gaining a foothold inside a network. This was a problem (called the BYOVD issue) and Microsoft addressed this with a block list that was used to prevent the loading of vulnerable drivers. They updated this list through Windows Update.

Except they didn’t. In database terms, we had an eventually consistent set of data, which was being updated at Microsoft, but not being sent to client workstations. There were over 3 years of the list not being updated, despite assurances from Microsoft that Windows 10 PCs were protected. There are instructions for manually updating your machine.

I don’t envy this being a process I’d want to build. Getting data from security researchers or elsewhere, putting it in a database (I hope), then exporting this into a text format and getting that loaded into the Windows Update process, all while trying to ensure the process is secure along the way. That can’t be easy inside a large company like Microsoft. At the same time, not noticing this wasn’t working isn’t excusable. Likely there were issues, but my guess is someone didn’t want to admit a failure and get a bad annual review.

Data sync issues are nothing new, and many of us struggle with these on a weekly basis. However, these are important issues. Replication can fill log files (and disks), broken ETL processes can cause execs to make poor decisions, and in the security space, not updating drivers and block lists leave us vulnerable.

This situation isn’t excusable and Microsoft ought to be ashamed. Some of these execs ought to lose bonuses, at the very least. It’s also not excusable in our orgs. We ought to be sure we’re patching on a regular basis and minimizing the attack surface area we present. It’s the least we can do as IT professionals.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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