Responsible Disclosure – Old Debate, Fresh Aspects?!

[This was originally published on the OSVDB blog.]

Earlier this evening, there was a Twitter debate regarding a proposed standard for responsible vulnerability disclosure. It referred to ISO/IEC 29147, a proposed standard for responsibly disclosing a vulnerability. Dino Dai Zovi brought up a fresh angle, that the “responsible disclosure” name itself completely ignored the aspect of the vendor practicing “responsible remediation”. That term should really be more in the center of our minds and discussion. The lack of “responsible remediation” is why so many researchers are fed up with dealing with vendors. That is one reason some use services like ZDI or iDefense, not just the cash.

The “responsible disclosure” debate is stale for the most part. We’ll never agree on how much time is ‘right’ for a vendor to fix a vulnerability. Some researchers think it’s days, other think weeks or months. In the paraphrased words of some female vendor on some boring responsible disclosure panel a few years back, “if i can have a kid in 9 months, i should be able to fix a vulnerability too“. Yet 9 months isn’t reasonable to some vendors like HP, who routinely break the 1,000 day mark, even for simple XSS.

Martin McKeay brought up another aspect to the responsible disclosure debate that was actually fresh, asking what part consumers played in the disclosure process. While I believe it is a neat aspect and something most haven’t considered, I personally believe it is quickly answered by “consumers can put financial pressure on vendors that don’t play well with others”. In reality, consumers are lazy. It takes more than a few bad acts to get us to spend time an energy finding a new vendor. Short of anally raping us with a router and pouring lemon juice in our festering wound, nine times out of ten, we will not find a new vendor.

Back to Dino. He is right, any standard for disclosure should be equally centered on the vendor as it is for the researcher. Researchers can easily fall back on RFP’s “rfpolicy” disclosure policy and change X days to something they believe in. The framework is still perfectly valid and outlines the process, the time frames are always up for debate.

What if we carried this one step beyond? How about making the ISO standards apply to any and every vulnerability, regardless of who found it? If BigVendor finds a vulnerability during internal testing and fixes it, don’t consumers have a right to know? When BigVendor says “upgrade to Service Pack 18” and only gives us a reason of “big stability enhancements!!”, shouldn’t we have a right to know those enhancements translate into 17 remotely exploitable vulnerabilities discovered during internal testing and QA? Wouldn’t *that* knowledge be a more significant reason to upgrade and apply the service pack?

I realize it is a pipe dream to think that most vendors would ever offer that level of transparency, even months (years?) after a given issue is fixed. In reality though, they are the proverbial large mythical flightless birds who stick their heads in the sand rather than face a difficult situation (ostriches are real and don’t bury their heads). It has been proven countless times that serious vulnerabilities in big vendors (e.g., Microsoft, Apple, Adobe) are being discovered by multiple parties. No one with an inkling of common sense and rational thinking can believe that the ‘bad guys’ aren’t also discovering some of these bugs. We’re long past the point of vendors honestly thinking that they can get away with some notion that they have a reputation for ‘security’. Add it up, and we’re to that time where the big vendors should be disclosing vulnerabilities discovered during their internal QA / SLDC process. The reputation of insecure software really can’t hurt them any more, and transparency is finally the one thing that could buy back some degree of consumer confidence.

Perhaps now is the time where ‘responsible disclosure’ should apply equally to hackers, security researchers and vendors, as well as apply to ‘responsible remediation’. Because really, some 20 years after the disclosure debate got going, do we really think we need to try to apply more guidelines to researchers giving away $250/hr consulting work or “hackers” posting vulnerabilities as a hobby? Vendors that have tried to label or apply policy to these people were simply blame-shifting from day one, while not applying that desired policy to themselves.

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