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Microsoft has Patch Tuesday. Oracle and Adobe are on regular patch cycles, often issuing 10 or more patches at once. But many smaller vendors haven't yet developed such rigorous patching processes--and that might make them prime targets for new exploits, experts say.
After years of attacking popular Microsoft file formats, such as Word and Excel, attackers moved on to Adobe's PDF and Flash formats. Today, more attacks are focusing on Oracle's Java. As they became subject to more frequent attacks, software vendors strengthened their platforms to make them more difficult to assault.
But for the most part, smaller software vendors have not had to weather the scrutiny of cybercriminals and security researchers. And because of this lack of scrutiny, attackers are beginning to develop more targeted and sophisticated attacks that take advantage of flaws in less popular software that has not had as much rigorous security testing.
"At some point, [attackers] are going to exhaust all the different file formats that they can exploit," says Mike Dausin, manager of advanced security intelligence for HP TippingPoint's DVLabs. "It was only .exes at first, and then it was screen savers, and on and on down the list. ... As the holes get plugged, [attackers] will likely move on to the more exotic formats."
The tactic is not unheard of among malware. In 2009, antivirus firms found that the Induc virus used Delphi files to build itself into programs and infect other systems. Around the same time, another piece of malware, Utax, used Virtual LISP to infect AutoCAD files. And, of course, one way that Stuxnet spreads is through the industrial control file format Step 7.
Focusing on the less scrutinized software means vulnerabilities will be easier to find, says Wolfgang Kandek, CTO for vulnerability management firm Qualys. For example, in April Microsoft patched a buffer overflow in the Windows Fax Cover Page Editor that could have allowed malicious code to run, Kandek says.