Patch or we go public, says bug bounty program

TippingPoint's ZDI sets a 6-month deadline on vendors to encourage faster patching

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"This is the most responsible way we can think of to report vulnerabilities," Portnoy continued. "It's irresponsible to sit on the vulnerability forever. So we could do what we've been doing, or we can release limited details of the vulnerability and ways to mitigate the threat [after six months]."

Microsoft, a frequent recipient of ZDI's bug reports, was "doubtful" about the change when TippingPoint talked to Microsoft's representatives at last week's Black Hat security conference, Portnoy said.

Today, Microsoft said it disagreed with the new deadline. "Only in the event of active attacks is public disclosure, focused on mitigations and workarounds, likely the best course of action," said Dave Forstrom, director of Microsoft's overarching Trustworthy Computing group, in an e-mail. "And even then it should be coordinated as closely as possible."

Others applauded ZDI's changes, but wished they had set a tougher deadline.

"This has been a long time coming," said HD Moore, chief security officer of Rapid7 and the creator of the well-known Metasploit penetration testing kit. "ZDI is in a difficult place. They have to toe the line between disclosure and being part of programs like MAPP. So this is probably the most aggressive they could get. But I think six months is a bit generous."

TippingPoint is a participant in MAPP, the Microsoft Active Protections Program, which provides technical information about Microsoft's bugs to vetted security software developers before the release of patches.

Google would likely agree with Moore. Last month, it reignited the debate about bug reporting with a proposal that featured, among other things, a call that researchers set a 60-day deadline. Under Google's plan, researchers would be free to take their findings public if a patch wasn't produced by the two-month deadline.

Days later, Microsoft responded by saying it wanted to change the term "responsible disclosure" to "coordinated vulnerability disclosure" to better reflect its policy and to remove the loaded word "responsible" from the discussion.

But Microsoft does not like the idea of having its feet held to the fire.

"Many vulnerability coordinators have established timelines for disclosure and as always, we'll continue to work with them to in a way that minimizes customer risk," said Forstrom. "Microsoft advocates for coordinated vulnerability disclosure, where vendors and finders work together closely toward a resolution."

Google today declined comment on ZDI's change, instead pointing to a line in its July proposal about bug reporting: " Creating pressure towards more reasonably-timed fixes will result in smaller windows of opportunity for blackhats to abuse vulnerabilities."

VeriSign iDefense, which operates a smaller-scale bug bounty program than TippingPoint, did not reply to a request for the comment. The company has hinted it might make changes, however.

"We should carefully watch and respond to the recent change in vulnerability disclosure trends," iDefense said four weeks ago on Twitter.

Portnoy said that ZDI's new deadline would help, not harm users. "We won't be publishing enough information for an attack to develop an exploit," he said. "But the shorter we can make that window of opportunity, the better it is for everyone."

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

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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