Software industry's 'patch culture' attack

Jun 06, 2006

An attack from the security chief of software giant Oracle on the so-called culture of patching and bug-ridden products in the software industry has drawn fire from industry observers, citing the comments as hypocritical and naive.

Chief Security officer Mary Ann Davidson was speaking at the recent WWW2006 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, when she commented on how the software industry was allegedly packed with bug-filled products, saying that "you wouldn't get on a plane built by software developers." CDNet reported on the speech in which Davidson described the industry as one in which most software developers weren't trained to "think in terms of safety, security and reliability" but instead being attached to a culture of "patch, patch, patch." This "patch culture" was costing businesses $59 billion, she said.

Software patches are small pieces of software that are designed to either fix or update computer programs and are more common in large-scale projects. Although designed to smooth out problems, increase usability and get rid of pesky bugs, patches can sometimes introduce new problems, too. While being criticized as being inefficient and wasteful, it can also be a necessity when insecure software is built.

Davidson drew comparisons between software engineers and civil engineers, saying "What would happen if civil engineers built bridges the way developers write code? What would happen is that you would get the blue bridge of death appearing on your highway in the morning." She claimed that while civil engineers were trained to think in terms of safety, security and reliability, software engineers were not.

These problems were part of a broader picture that touched on national security and potential regulation of the software industry. Davidson said that she had taken a straw poll of the chief security officers on the CSO, a professional organization for security officers, and that many of them thought that the industry should be regulated. If regulation was brought in, the industry would only have itself to blame: "Industries don't want to be regulated, but if you don't want to be regulated, the burden is on you to do a better job."

The Oracle manager's comments were jumped on by industry observers and hackers and slated as being hypocritical. Discussants at the Slashdot technical online forum revealed that Oracle itself had a five-year turnaround between when it received reports on the bugs in its own software and when it actually got around to fixing them. Comments made on the forum reflected the mood that Oracle ought to remove the beam in their own software before criticizing the speck in others.

Davidson's analogy between civil and software engineers was also roundly mocked and criticized as being extremely naive. If bridges were indeed built to the same demands and deadlines as software products they would be expected to be built in any location, able to cope with any conceivable vehicle that could be driven over it, and resistant to terrorist attacks -- all while being built at low costs. Software is expected to be cheap, released quickly and able to run on multiple platforms, and bug-ridden programs are the inevitable outcome of working to these tight and frugal demands. The secure bug-free software that security officers desire can certainly be built, but only after a lengthier, more expensive development process -- and its this, industry observers say, is where the problem lies. "Bean-counting" managers will still aim for the bottom line of saving money and getting products to market quickly, at the cost of security and function.

Observers believe the call for regulation may have been missing the point somewhat, with suspicion that the target of regulatory activities wouldn't be the buggy products being released but the hackers who draw attention to the bugs.

One aspect of Davidson's speech that seemed to escape criticism was the comment that the British were better at hacking due to their skill, disrespect for authority and "just a touch of criminal behavior."

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Explore further: Thanksgiving travel woes? There's an app for that

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Quirky and GE unveil seven products for smart home

Nov 12, 2014

New York-based Quirky and GE have seven new smart home products. Each product represents the building blocks of an affordable and accessible smart home, said the Quirky CEO, Ben Kaufman. The other special ...

Hackers target CEOs in 'Darkhotel' scheme

Nov 10, 2014

Hackers have developed a scheme to steal sensitive information from top executives by penetrating the Wi-Fi networks of luxury hotels, security researchers said Monday.

Apple Pay fails to unify fragmented market

Nov 01, 2014

Apple Pay, meant to inject momentum into a fragmented market for the emerging mobile payments sector, has instead highlighted the squabbles between retailers and the banking and payments industry.

Recommended for you

Thanksgiving travel woes? There's an app for that

17 hours ago

Traveling by plane, train or automobile can be a headache. Mixing in Thanksgiving can make it a throbbing migraine. Technology provides some pain relief in the form of apps to let you know which roads are ...

Singapore moves to regulate taxi booking apps

Nov 21, 2014

Singapore on Friday announced new rules for mobile taxi booking apps, including US-based Uber, in the latest move by governments around the world to regulate the increasingly popular services.

Protecting personal data in the cloud

Nov 20, 2014

IBM today announced it has patented the design for a data privacy engine that can more efficiently and affordably help businesses protect personal data as it is transferred between countries, including across private clouds.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.