Worried about the state of security incident response among open-source software projects, a group of computer security professionals has launched an ambitious effort to manage the coordination of vulnerability warnings and patch release information between open-source vendors large and small.
The new organization, called oCERT (Open Source Computer Emergency Response Team), emerged from stealth mode at this year's CanSecWest security conference with a grand plan to be the go-to place for security incident response when an open-source software project is affected.
Backed by search technology giant Google, security consulting firm Inverse Path and the Open Source Lab at Oregon State University, oCERT wants to manage advance vulnerability warnings, offer resources for analyzing and fixing software flaws, coordinate the patch release notification process and hold tardy vendors to the fire when security fixes are delayed.
"Small open-source projects often don't have any form of security handling but the same code they manage [is] included by bigger projects and distributions. When there's a compromise, there's no proper coordination and that's not acceptable," says Andrea Barisani, oCERT founder and project coordinator.
The Downside to Diversity
Barisani, a well-respected researcher who maintains several small open-source security projects, believes oCERT can fill the gap by providing resources to small vendors and active coordination with larger distributions that might be affected by a security flaw or compromise.
"Open source is wonderful for the diversity of software and projects that can affect users with the most advanced technology, but this extreme diversity has the downside of missing global coordination, and quality is not always the best," he said in an interview with eWEEK. "When it comes to security, this is a problem."
Barisani added: "We wanted to create a public organization that would help in coordinating security issues like vulnerabilities and compromises. Only very few security issues affect only a specific vendor in the open-source world. Most of the time, code is re-used all over the place and that's why there's this need for coordination."
In the first week since the launch of oCERT, several big-name vendors and distributions have signed on as active members. They include Gentoo, Mandriva, OpenBSD, OpenSSH, Nmap and Annvix.
Barisani said all the major players in the open-source software world will be approached to join and actively participate in the oCERT effort. To qualify for oCERT membership, an open-source distribution or project must be active and must have a good record in being proactive and responsive to dealing with security-related problems. A member must also have an active security contact and must agree to the oCERT disclosure policy. Members must also agree to avoid silently fixing vulnerabilities without proper disclosure.