Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Internet is Unpatched – It’s Not Hard to See Why

It’s brutal. We have Internet Explorer vulnerabilities that need a chart to explain, a Mac OS X update that’s larger than a bootable Solaris image, a Java security update, two Firefox Updates, Adobe and Foxit! PDF readers that apparently are broken, as designed, and three flagship browsers that rolled over and died in one contest.

Responsible network administrators and home users have been placed into patch hell by software vendors that simply are not capable of writing software that can stand up to the Internet.

  • There is no operating system or platform that has built in patch management technology that is both comprehensive and easy for network administrators and home users to understand or use.
  • There is no reason to expect that even if software vendors were actually able to release good code, that the release would make it out to users desktops.
  • Some vendors (Microsoft) have robust and easy to use patch distribution systems, but those systems only distribute patches for their software. Each other vendor must re-invent the software distribution wheel, and each does it in a random and arbitrary way, with flags, popups, silent installs, noisy installs, click here to continue, arbitrary re-boots…

It’s not a Microsoft problem, it’s not an Adobe problem, it’s a software development problem, and as far as I can tell, all vendors have the problem.

So how did I get on this rant (other than the pathetic display of incompetence by the worlds major software vendors the last few months few decades)?

Google Analytics.

Presumably this blog is frequented by more-technical-than-average users. I can’t imagine non-technical users being interested in my most frequented posts on Structured System Management, MTTR, MTBF & Continuous Deployment. I would also assume that because the blog should only be interesting to techies:

  1. the distribution of browsers should be skewed towards Chrome and Firefox or other ‘nerdy’ browsers
  2. the operating systems should be weighted toward Linux and OS X
  3. the readers of this blog should be fully patched

Guess which two out of the three are correct?

Firefox & Chrome add up to more than IE:


The operating systems tend to be Linux and OS X heavy compared to the market as a whole:


And the readers of this blog tend to be fully patched:



[Hint – any Flash version other than r45 is out of date. Y’all are nerds, so y’all already knew that, right?].

If technical people either cannot or are not keeping up with patches, why would we expect ordinary users to keep up?

Broken, as designed.


  1. Silent updates for the vast majority of users is the only way, even if it's a slightly evil way of doing things. The more hassle an update involves the more likely a user is to ignore/skip the update.

    Just looking through my sets of Analytics stats, older Chrome versions die out pretty quickly, you occasionally an unpatched version - but in general the lifecycle of a release is pretty obvious.

    Any inconvenience which allows a user to ignore an update (even as minor as click here to continue) will result in old versions lingering on.

  2. If vendors would silently update existing software without 'adding features' or piggybacking toolbars and crapware, I'd agree.

    The randomness of upgrade popups is such that users are as likely to approve malware installs as they are to approve a valid update.