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Source: eWeek

Posted on April 7, 2003

      The SQL Slammer worm played a major role in a recently reported spike in security incidents during the first three months of 2003.

      The report, put out by security firm Internet Security Systems Inc., found an 84 percent jump in reported security incidents and confirmed attacks from the fourth quarter of 2002 to the first quarter of 2003.

      Pete Allor, manager of the company's ISS X-Force Threat Intelligence Services, said that Slammer‹which in late January preyed upon servers running Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server 2000 database‹was a "huge part" of the substantial increase in security reports. Allor said that in just the two-day period when Slammer had its biggest impact, his group observed over 2 million related security events. To put that into perspective, over the past three months, the group observed some 160 million security events.

      Those numbers could point to a few things, Allor said: more hacker activities focused on probing databases and not enough alacrity on the part of DBAs (database administrators) when it comes to installing patches.

      "We've noted for awhile that there's been a lot of scanning for database events," said Allor, in Atlanta. "We've seen people scan ports, looking to see what's open and what they can connect to. And as you're aware, that's where all the data's at. If you're looking for something to do, [databases] are a great thing to look at."

      Databases are also particularly vulnerable to attack, since DBAs are loathe to install patches that haven't been thoroughly tested, Allor said. Indeed, six months before the fast-replicating Slammer worm struck, Microsoft Corp. had issued a patch that would have covered the vulnerability the worm exploited. Many DBAs who procrastinated on installing the patch cited the need to test it in a production environment before installing it‹a choice that left them vulnerable. "Everyone's afraid that if you play with something that's working, you'll break it," Allor said. "They're very conservative in what they do to upgrade."

      Jay Todd, chief financial officer for Service Thread Manufacturing Co., in Laurinburg, N.C., who also manages IT for the industrial thread and yarn manufacturer, said there's simply no excuse for procrastinating on installing patches. "It's ludicrous for everybody to say that Microsoft's a big, bad wolf because they can't test every configuration of their product," he said. "They ship it out as a user-configurable product. There's no way anybody could foresee all the combinations of setups."

      Unlike many DBAs, Todd installs service packs as soon as they're issued. That kept the company's SQL Server 2000 database software safe from Slammer, he said, and it protects the database and other infrastructure from getting attacked by the 15 to 20 e-mail viruses that arrive in his in-box daily.

      ISS' Allor said that those enterprises that can't test patches so they can be installed quickly should at least throw up more protection around databases. "I understand the issue, that you need to test it," he said. "If that's the course you're taking, we'd highly recommend you put more protection around it."

      One way to do that is to put up a network segment where patches can be tested in an ongoing manner. "What you're looking to do is put the risk where you can tolerate it," Allor said. "Each organization has to go through its own risk assessment on that: how valuable is the information, how vulnerable is a machine on this network setup, what kind of intrusion detection is in front of it, what kind of firewall protections you have in front of it."

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