By Jaikumar Vijayan
December 11, 2006
The long-standing tension between software vendors and independent
researchers who try to find security holes in products came into public
view late last month, when Oracle Corp. criticized bug hunters after it
came under fire for its security practices.
In a message posted Nov. 27 in a blog on Oracles Web site, Eric Maurice,
manager of security in the companys global technology business unit,
said Oracle wouldnt let external perceptions drive its software security
policies. Maurice reiterated Oracles commitment to strong security
practices but said it would continue to prioritize vulnerabilities based
on their criticality and not on who had discovered them.
He also blasted security researchers who disclose so-called zero-day
flaws before vendors make fixes available for them. We consider such
practices to be irresponsible, as they can result in needlessly exposing
customers to risk of attack, Maurice wrote.
The blog post was an apparent response to what Maurice described as a
flurry of articles and blog entries about Oracle security issues.
For example, Next Generation Security Software Ltd., a Surrey,
England-based security research firm that has consulted with Microsoft
Corp. on security issues in the past, released a study showing that
Oracles databases have had far more vulnerabilities than Microsofts SQL
Server has had over the past six years.
Meanwhile, a security researcher in Argentina announced then abruptly
canceled plans to release information about an Oracle zero-day flaw
every day for one week in December.
Cesar Cerrudo, founder of Argeniss, an IT security firm in Buenos Aires,
wouldnt explain why he dropped the bug-disclosure plans. But via e-mail,
Cerrudo defended the work done by security researchers and said vendors
should be more concerned about responsible software development than
about proper vulnerability disclosure practices. Vendors are used to
researchers playing nice, he wrote. The situation should change.
Research costs thousands of dollars, and right now vendors are getting
[it for] free.
H.D. Moore, founder of the controversial Metasploit Project, which
releases vulnerability information and tool kits for writing attack
code, rebutted the notion that such initiatives only benefit malicious
hackers. The information made available by Metasploit puts the good guys
on equal footing with the folks who already have the skill to launch
these types of attacks, Moore wrote as part of an e-mail interview.
Security flaws are unlikely to remain undiscovered for long, whether bug
hunters go looking for them or not, said Robert Palmer, vice president
of IT at Lenox Inc., a Lawrenceville, N.J.-based maker oftableware and
Independent researchers provide a valuable service, not just to users
but to software vendors as well, Palmer said. He added that he wants to
see vendors bring bug hunters into the software development cycle. One
way to do so would be to give researchers access to alpha or beta code
with the express intent of letting them try to crack it before the
software is commercially released, Palmer said.
But Andrew Plato, president of Anitian Enterprise Security, a consulting
and systems integration firm in Beaverton, Ore., said researchers should
give vendors at least 30 days to address vulnerabilities before
reporting them publicly. One of the largest problems with independent
vulnerability research is blackmailing and grandstanding, Plato said.
He added that as long as bug hunters follow generally accepted
flaw-reporting practices, they serve an important role. Obscurity is not
security, Plato said. Its better to know about a bug and get it fixed
than to have it hidden.
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