InformationWeek today is running an article, in which they discuss how the currently active Zotob worm illustrates one key emerging fact about computer and network security: The so-called patch-window is rapidly disappearing.
The patch-window, of course, is the time between announcement of a vulnerability and the arrival of the first malware which tries to exploit that vulnerability. In that time period a vulnerable machine was therefore not likely to be exploited, and thus, this was the time period that the network or system administrators had to apply the necessary security patches.
Often, the authors of this malware actually derive the exploit code from reverse-engineering the patches, which are issued by the vendors. In the past, the patch-window was measured in weeks or even months. These days, as was the case with the Zotob worm, it just took a few days. Apparently, the authors of the malware are becoming more adept and efficient in constructing working exploit code and releasing it into the wild.
One could claim that even a patch window of a few days should be sufficient, since modern operating systems tend to provide convenient and easy-to-use patch mechanisms. However, that is simply not the case: Everyone trying to upgrade all the computers in a sufficiently large enterprise network will be able to attest to that.
And if the ever shrinking patch-window is not enough of a concern, there is always the looming threat of a true zero-day worm, a worm that takes advantage of a previously completely unknown exploit, or an exploit for which no patch at all is available. This Witty worm was a great example of how real this threat is.
Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer at the SANS Internet Storm Center, is quoted in the InformationWeek article as saying: "Defense in depth is your only chance to survive the early release of malware." Defense in depths means that one does not simply rely on perimeter defenses, such as firewalls, but instead has security systems in place throughout the network.
It is our position that ideally, since signatures of an exploit are not available for zero-day threats, these security systems should not rely on signatures, or on any prior knowledge. Instead, behavioral anomaly detection can be used to great effect in those situations. For more details, may I also point out what I wrote here about where to deploy anomaly detection. Also see here about how those systems allow for the construction of a self-healing and adaptive network infrastructure, which can deal with those issues, no matter what happens to the patch window.