OIS Fights Internet Danger

But securing industry trust may be the Organization for Internet Safety's toughest battle.

When they first banded together nearly three years ago, the companies that would eventually form the Organization for Internet Safety hoped to develop a framework to help security researchers simplify and codify their interactions with software vendors and impose some order on the research community.

The idea had some initial support from vendors and researchers, and the group began laying out its guidelines, which it released last July. However, since the release, the OIS and its policy have been criticized by security experts who see the guidelines—and the OIS itself—as a way for software vendors to delay acknowledging and fixing vulnerabilities.


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The outcry grew especially loud recently when the OIS posted a note on the BugTraq mailing list asking for public comment on its guidelines. Several researchers responded to the posting by ripping the policy and discouraging others from adopting it. The OIS, whose members include Microsoft Corp., @Stake Inc., BindView Corp., and other security and software vendors, is now seen by many as a political group striving to make its guidelines into law.

Timeline of OIS guideline release process

  • Fall 2001 Founding members convene at Microsoft Trusted Computing Forum
  • September 2002 OIS announces its existence
  • June 2003 Public comment period for draft guidelines opens
  • July 2003 OIS guidelines Version 1.0 released at Black Hat Briefings
  • May 2004 OIS asks for further public comment
  • July 2004 Comment period ends

"The purpose of the OIS is to lobby toward a business model for Microsoft and the other OIS members that involves the removal of noncompliant security researchers," according to researcher Dave Aitel. A former @Stake consultant who now runs his own New York-based security company, Immunity Inc., Aitel said OIS policy has little support within the security research community. "I dont think they ever had a lot of credibility anyway, but they definitely lost a lot of what they were trying to build," he said. "They want to go to Congress and say, We have overwhelming support in the community, and you should legislate this."

The OIS Guidelines for Security Vulnerability Reporting and Response Process lays out a formal structure for researchers to use to communicate their findings to vendors.

OIS members said they have no interest in making their guidelines into law and would rather see the community adopt a common standard of practice, regardless of which one it is.

"The document specifically states that we dont want legislation and want the industry to self-regulate," said Chris Wysopal, vice president of research development at @Stake, a security consultancy in Cambridge, Mass. "The best way to avoid problems is to have broadly adopted guidelines. We know that we dont know enough to say this is the absolute best way of doing this."


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