Randy's Patch Analysis Criteria

You have many systems, many patches and little time. You need to know which patches affect which systems, which patches are urgent and which can wait. You need to know which vulnerabilities have workarounds so that you can avoid risking the stability of your environment with a potentially dangerous patch. 

Described below are the main criteria that factor into these needs which are also featured in the Fast Facts chart in each Patch analysis.

Principle type of system affected

Most patches are limited to a given type or role of system.  For instance in 2008 most patches have been for vulnerabilities encountered by end-users on workstations and terminal servers. 

Such "workstation-centric" vulnerabilities are those whose pre-requisites require you to be engaging in an interactive, end-user activity such as opening a document, browsing the web, reading email.  These end-user activities are extremely important to avoid while logged on to a server either interactively or via Remote Desktop.  If administrators follow this important best practice of abstaining from such end-user activities on their servers, such servers essentially immune to these "workstation-centric" vulnerabilities. 

On the other hand of course some vulnerabilities are specific to servers and sometimes to domain controllers specifically.  This information helps you quickly determine which systems are affected by the bulletin.

Exploit details public?

Thanks to the widely supported concept of responsible disclosure most security researchers report newly discovered vulnerabilities first the software vendor and give the vendor a reasonable amount of time to develop a patch going public with the "how-to" details for exploiting the vulnerability. 

Sometimes however that doesn't happen and the how-to details are all over the Internet days or weeks before a patch is available.  When that happens, the urgency to patch your systems increases and you may need to compress or reduce the amount of stability testing of the patch in your environment.  Even more so if the security hole is being actively exploited in attacks - see next point. 

Exploit being used in attacks?

If there are reports of this, it becomes even more urgent to get that patch out there.  In fact fast deployment of the patch may override the normal stability testing you perform on the patch in your environment.

Comprehensive, practical workaround available?

Most administrators are understandably reticent about installing new code and risking the stability of their environment.  Workarounds are usually some kind of configuration change that allow you to mitigate the risk without installing new code and are a nice option to have. 

However the workaround should be comprehensive and practical. To be comprehensive, the workaround(s) should address all the vulnerabilities and likely vectors.  To be practical, you should be able to push the configuration change out in an automated way such as through group policy.

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