Zero Day Vulnerabilities – Sell Your Soul?

[This was originally published on the OSVDB blog.]

There have been several Vulnerability Sharing Clubs (VSC) in the past including iDefense, Immunity and others. For those who question this business model, consider Verisign just purchased iDefense for US $40 million. Still not a believer? Consider 3Com/TippingPoint is now offering a new VSC called the Zero Day Initiative. Now instead of just selling an exploit for cash, you can earn points and trade them in for cash and prizes! Since this new program is being lead by David Endler, who was an early participant in the creation of the iDefense VSC, this business model appears to be very sound (for the time being). In response, iDefense/Verisign has announce that not only is it continuing their program, it is beefing it up and offering more money for the 0-day. For the skeptics out there, you are not alone. Frank Knobbe wrote a really good response to the 3Com/TP announcement, questioning the nature of the vulnerabilities that would be shared. I tend to agree with many points of this.

Other random thoughts:

  • VSCs typically receive a 0-day vulnerability, share the info with their clients, then disclose the vuln to the vendor, give them all the time they want for a patch and eventually publish the information (presumably when it has little/no value). Verisign may now give iDefense a better opportunity to know when the 0-day is worthless via its customer networks they monitor. Once they see the vulnerability in the wild, they know it isn’t 0-day and the value drops.
  • With the above model in mind, we now know the Verisign doesn’t care about the ethical dilemma of having 0-day vulnerability information, and not immediately disclosing it to the vendor. Even if they do share with the vendor immediately, they also share this information with clients who can leak the information out to other people.
  • With the above model in mind, we know that 3com/TippingPoint also doesn’t care about the ethical dilemma.
  • Is this the start of a trend regarding vulnerabilities, disclosure and the bottom line?
  • Will this be the precursor to half a dozen other companies offering similar programs?
  • If there are a dozen VSCs like this, are the vendors expected to pay for the information to receive it before the VSC decides to “responsibly disclose” said information to the vendor? (Remember, the vuln info usually stays in the hands of the VSC and it’s clients for months before vendor notification)

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