Oracle, Technical

Patching Time

Just a quick note to point out that the October PSU was just released. The database has a few more vulnerabilities than usual (31), but they are mostly related to Java and the high CVSS score of 9 only applies to people running Oracle on windows. (On other operating systems, the highest score is 6.5.)

I did happen to glance at the announcement on the security blog, and I thought this short blurb was worth repeating:

In today’s Critical Patch Update Advisory, you will see a stronger than previously-used statement about the importance of applying security patches. Even though Oracle has consistently tried to encourage customers to apply Critical Patch Updates on a timely basis and recommended customers remain on actively-supported versions, Oracle continues to receive credible reports of attempts to exploit vulnerabilities for which fixes have been already published by Oracle. In many instances, these fixes were published by Oracle years ago, but their non-application by customers, particularly against Internet-facing systems, results in dangerous exposure for these customers. Keeping up with security releases is a good security practice and good IT governance.

The Oracle Database was first released in a different age than we live in today. Ordering physical parts involved navigating paper catalogs and faxing order sheets to the supplier. Physical inventory management relied heavily on notebooks and clipboards. Mainframes were processing data but manufacturing and supply chain had not yet been revolutionized by technology. Likewise, software base installs and upgrades were shipped on CDs through the mail and installed via physical consoles. The feedback cycle incorporating customer requests into software features took years.

Today, manufacturing is lean and the supply chain is digitized. Inventory is managed with the help of scanners and real-time analytics. Customer communication is more streamlined than ever before and developers respond quickly to the market. Bugs are exploited maliciously as soon as they’re discovered and the software development and delivery process has been optimized for fast response and rapid digital delivery of fixes.

Here’s the puzzle: Cell phones, web browsers and laptop operating systems all get security updates installed frequently. Even the linux OS running on your servers is easy to update with security patches. Oracle is no exception – they have streamlined delivery of database patches through the quarterly PSU program. Why do so many people simply ignore the whole area of Oracle database patches? Are we stuck in the old age of infrequent patching activity even though Oracle themselves have moved on?


For many, it just seems overwhelming to think about patching. And honestly – it is. At first. The key is actually a little counter-intuitive: it’s painful, so you should in fact do it a lot! Believe it or not, it will actually become very easy once you get over the initial hump.

In my experience working at one small org (two dba’s), the key is doing it regularly. Lots of practice. You keep decent notes and setup scripts/tools where it makes sense and then you start to get a lot faster after several times around. By the way, my thinking has been influenced quite a bit here by the devops movement (like Jez Humble’s ’12 berlin talk and John Allspaw’s ’09 velocity talk). I think they have a nice articulation of this basic repetition principle. And it is very relevant to people who have Oracle databases.

So with all that said, happy patching! I know that I’ll be working with these PSUs over the next week or two. I hope that you’ll be working with them too!

About Jeremy

Building and running reliable data platforms that scale and perform. about.me/jeremy_schneider


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This is my personal website. The views expressed here are mine alone and may not reflect the views of my employer.

contact: 312-725-9249 or schneider @ ardentperf.com




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