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IBM X-Force Midyear Report: Vulnerabilities Up, Mobile Exploits Down

Though the number of publicly disclosed software vulnerabilities is on pace this year to break records set in 2010, there have been fewer mobile vulnerability exploits in 2012, according to a report released today by IBM's X-Force research and development teams.

Tracking statistics and attack trends through the first half of 2012, the IBM X-Force 2012 Mid-year Trend and Risk Report found that 4,400 new security vulnerabilities were discovered within that time period. If vulnerabilities continue at the same pace, the overall numbers could eclipse a record set in 2010 before a brief lull in new vulnerabilities occurred last year, IBM researchers say.

The good news is that X-Force found a significant decline in publicly released exploits this year compared with first-half figures from 2010. The percentage of vulnerabilities for which there were exploits equaled about 9.7% in this year's first half, compared with 14.7% in the first half of 2010.

"X-Force believes that the decline in publicly available exploits is a direct result of architectural changes that have been made in software over the past few years that make exploiting these vulnerabilities more challenging," the report said.

One particular software niche that saw particularly significant declines in publicly available exploits is in mobile operating systems, IBM reports. According to company researchers, mobile vulnerabilities and exploits are down to their lowest levels since 2008.

"We are not seeing the expected massive exploitation and malware targeted toward mobile devices that many have predicted for years," said Clinton McFadden, senior operations manager at IBM X-Force research and development. "We are seeing the research the bad guys are doing, we're seeing some pockets of interesting exploitation and targeted malware, but not the explosion that we expected."

According to the report, one of the likely reasons for this decrease in mobile vulnerabilities is the continued maturation of mobile development practices. The spike and then decline in mobile vulnerabilities follows a similar pattern in any new market where easier bugs are found quickly and only the ones that are harder to find are left behind. The dip reflects a "lag in time between researchers and attackers discovering techniques to overcome previously perceived limitations," the report said.

Nevertheless, that doesn't mean enterprises shouldn't be concerned about mobile threats, McFadden said.

"This perfect storm of tool availability for the bad guys, lack of security tools , controls and security consciousness within the adoption of mobile, and pressure to adopt bring your own device are creating an atmosphere that security professionals should be concerned about," he warned.