Testing problems are forcing some Oracle Corp. users to wait a little longer than usual for the company's latest round of security patches, the first of which were released last month.
Though Oracle offered patches for a number of its most popular products as part of its April 18 Critical Patch Update, it had said that updates for many other versions of the products would not become available until May 1. Now, the database vendor is saying that many of those critical updates may not be available until as late as May 15.
Oracle typically releases about 150 patches for a variety of different operating systems in its Critical Patch Updates, which ship every three months.
The problem with the April update is that some of the patches have not yet passed the comprehensive suites of tests that Oracle uses to ensure that they will not disrupt customer's applications, said Darius Wiles, manager of Oracle Security Alerts.
"There were some [updates] that failed out of the test suite, so we needed some more time to test them," Wiles said.
Oracle is particularly eager to complete testing and release updates for some of the more widely used versions of its database, including version 184.108.40.206 and 10.1.0.4. But the company first needs to ensure that the new software will not disrupt customers, Wiles said.
Oracle users can find more information on the estimated delivery date of Oracle's patches by checking the pre-installation notes Oracle has published for each of its products. These can be found on Oracle's MetaLink online support service by searching for document: 360464.1
Security researcher and Oracle critic David Litchfield believes that by waiting so long to update some versions of its products, Oracle is undermining the value of its regular patch release cycle, which is designed to provide customers with regular, predictable software updates.
In an interview, Litchfield criticized both the lateness of the updates and their quality.
"The whole point of a regular patch cycle is that people can plan ahead and install once," said Litchfield, managing director of Next Generation Security Software Ltd., in Sutton, England. "But if you are having to install it nine times, where's the benefit of that?"
Litchfield estimates that two-thirds of Oracle's supported products are now unpatched, leaving many users vulnerable.
But Wiles countered that the problem appears to be worse than it is. Because updates for some applications, such as Oracle's application server, are dependent on the database fixes, there has been a bottleneck effect with the updates. "Once we get the database stuff cleared, there are going to be a whole bunch of products that are going to be patched."
Though some security researchers such as Litchfield are critical of Oracle's delays, most customers prefer that the software vendor deliver a tested and reliable product, said David Kennedy, a senior risk analyst with Cybertrust Inc., in Herndon, Virginia. "I'm sympathetic with Oracle," he said. "They get barbecued for not coming up with patches fast enough."
"On the other hand," he said, "They could be just slow and lazy."