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Immediate flaw alerts vs. Disclosing with patches




Immediate flaw alerts vs. Disclosing with patches
Immediate flaw alerts vs. Disclosing with patches



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http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/102607-arguments-disclose-vulnerabilities.html 

By Ellen Messmer
Network World
10/26/07

What=E2=80=99s safer, knowing there=E2=80=99s a gaping hole that can be exploited in a 
software product even when there is no patch for it, or being told about 
the gaping hole once there is a patch?

That debate, heard since the dawn of software, pits the tell-all crowd 
arguing for =E2=80=9Cfull disclosure=E2=80=9D against those who argue for =E2=80=9Cresponsible 
disclosure,=E2=80=9D a philosophy favoring greater discretion about software 
vulnerabilities in the hope that malicious hackers won=E2=80=99t benefit from 
too much information.

But that assumes they don=E2=80=99t already know anyway. And if the hackers 
know, then is it just the good folks who are in the dark? Such have been 
the powerful arguments on both sides, which grew louder in the 1990s as 
Microsoft Windows settled in for a long stay on the desktop and server, 
giving =E2=80=9Cscript kiddies=E2=80=9D armed with automated attack tools the ability to 
hit a lot with little effort over the Internet. It didn=E2=80=99t help that 
Microsoft in the early days was in a blissful state of near-complete 
denial about software holes.

At the same time, security research was accelerating, with brash young 
firms like eEye Digital Security (founded in 1998) discovering 
vulnerability after vulnerability in Windows, and at the time, arguing 
for full discovery. Then the real impact of software vulnerability hit 
home for the entire world when the crippling computer worm named Code 
Red ripped across the Internet in 2001, exploiting a vulnerability in 
unpatched Microsoft ISS Web servers.

Although a server patch had been available for a month that could have 
stopped Code Red if applied to servers, the topic of disclosure grew 
ever more shrill as some accused eEye of revealing too much about 
Windows flaws.

In an attempt to find balance in the debate, a group calling itself the 
Organization for Internet Safety was founded in 2002 by Microsoft and 
others in the industry to come up with guidelines for responsible 
disclosure of software flaws. Last updated in 2004, the OIS guidelines 
say someone discovering a software flaw should discretely share that 
information only with the software vendor involved, allowing a minimum 
of 30 days to correct the problem.

But since then, the argument has only gotten more muddied as a thriving 
industry in the last few years has sprung up for selling information 
about vulnerabilities directly to security firms, which then market the 
vulnerability data to subscribers.

Some individuals who once backed the OIS guidelines say they=E2=80=99re 
antiquated and only useful for protecting software vendors. =E2=80=9CThe OIS 
standards were a valiant effort, but in the end the OIS was designed to 
help vendors manage things on their end,=E2=80=9D says Terri Forslof, who helped 
craft the OIS guidelines when working in Microsoft=E2=80=99s security-response 
center but joined a security firm re-selling vulnerability research.

Still, others vehemently disagree, saying responsible disclosure in 
which vulnerability research is shared first privately with the software 
vendor is ethical, while selling it to subscribers is not. =E2=80=9CThey=E2=80=99re 
brokering information that makes the world less safe,=E2=80=9D says Kris Lamb, 
director of the X-Force research development at IBM=E2=80=99s Internet Security 
Systems division.

All contents copyright 1995-2007 Network World, Inc


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