Microsoft gives Windows app developers 180 days to patch -- or else

Failure to fix means Microsoft will give the app the hook, yanking it off the e-store

Microsoft today said it would give third-party app developers 180 days to clean up their security act -- and patch serious vulnerabilities -- or the company will yank their software from its online stores.

One impressed security expert called the move unprecedented. "I'm really happy with the public details on how they'll handle this," said Tyler Reguly, the manager of security research at Tripwire. "I'm not aware of similar public policies for Google Play or the Apple App Store."

The new policy was announced by the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) Tuesday alongside the release of July's Patch Tuesday flaw-fixing slate.

Effective immediately, developers must fix vulnerabilities in their apps rated "critical" or "important" -- the top two rankings in Microsoft's four-step threat-scoring system -- within 180 days of being notified by the MSRC. The penalty for failure: Microsoft will remove the vulnerable app from the pertinent app store.

"The policy change is just one more step that we are taking to help ensure that vulnerabilities are addressed appropriately," Microsoft said.

Microsoft's own Windows, Office or Azure apps are also covered by the new policy.

"I've never seen a vendor state that they'd pull their own applications, so that deserves kudos," said Reguly.

Apps under the 180-day watch include those in the Windows Store, which feeds "Modern," née "Metro," apps to Windows 8 and Windows RT; the Windows Phone Store, the Office Store, the e-mart for third-party apps and add-ons for Microsoft's productivity suite; and the Azure Marketplace, where customers and companies buy and sell "Software as a Service" (SaaS) applications as well as data collections, including demographic and financial datasets.

Not surprisingly, caveats apply.

According to the MSRC, app developers have the 180-day grace period only if the vulnerability is not under active attack. The implication is that app bugs that are being actively exploited will have much less time, perhaps none, before Microsoft removes the buggy app.

"This new policy allows us take swift action in all cases, which may include immediate removal of the app from the store," said Dustin Childs, a group manager on the Trustworthy Computing team, in an email. "We'll exercise its discretion on a case-by-case basis."

Microsoft declined to answer additional questions, including whether developers whose apps were under attack would be allowed any time, and if so, how much, to patch before the app was withdrawn.

"We expect that developers will address all vulnerabilities much faster than 180 days," the MSRC added. "To date, no apps have come close to exceeding this deadline. However, Microsoft may make exceptions, such as when issues affect multiple developers or are architectural in nature, where such action is prohibited by law, or at Microsoft's discretion."

Security researchers or others who have uncovered a Windows, Office or Azure app bug, but who have not gotten satisfaction after directly contacting the developer can reach out to Microsoft at this email address. Microsoft will presumably then light a fire under the developer.

This article, Microsoft gives Windows app developers 180 days to patch & or else, was originally published at

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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