OIS Tackles Vulnerability Reporting

Group readies plan for the reporting and handling of software vulnerabilities.

An independent group of security experts is close to finalizing details of a document that it hopes will become a de facto standard for the reporting and handling of software vulnerabilities.

The Organization for Internet Safety is currently putting the finishing touches on its vulnerability disclosure plan, which members say could be released within a month or so. The plan will hew closely to a document that two of the groups members submitted last year to the Internet Engineering Task Force.

"Were starting out with something very similar to the IETF draft. We had a good base to start with so we didnt have to start from scratch," said Chris Wysopal, director of research and development at @stake Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the authors of the IETF document. "Were definitely getting there. Were close. Were at the stage of dotting the is and crossing the ts."

The IETF document suggests that vendors work closely with the researchers who discover security flaws, keeping them updated as the company works on a patch or work-around for the vulnerability. Specifically, the proposal asks that vendors acknowledge receipt of the vulnerability report within seven days and provide a detailed response to the allegation within 10 days.

The document also suggests that the vendor contact the person who found the flaw, called a "reporter" in the document, every seven days during the patch-research process and try to resolve the vulnerability within 30 days.

Wysopal and his co-author, Steve Christey, the lead information security engineer at The Mitre Corp., eventually withdrew their draft from IETF consideration.

The OIS is wrapping up its work on the plan at a time when more and more security researchers are racing to find and report vulnerabilities. This competition can sometimes lead to an urge to release vulnerability advisories early—that is, before a patch or new version of the software is ready—so as to head off any other researchers who might be on the same track.

This practice has drawn sharp criticism from software vendors, security companies and the government. Federal officials are at work on their own plan to standardize the way new flaws and larger security issues are handled. But Wysopal said he hopes the governments efforts dont end up undermining what the OIS is trying to accomplish.

"The governments scope is much broader than ours. Theyre concerned with network operators who have a problem as well as new software vulnerabilities," he said. "But, within the scope of disclosing new vulnerabilities, I hope they look at what OIS comes out with and can adopt it. Were the people who have a stake in the game, who are on the front lines. I just hope the government doesnt come up with something different."

The OIS was formed last year as a cooperative effort among a group of software vendors and security companies. Members include Microsoft Corp., Foundstone Inc., Guardent Inc., BindView Corp., Internet Security Systems Inc., Oracle Corp. and others.

After work is complete on the current project, OIS members plan to look at ways to improve the coordinated release of vulnerability advisories. This topic has gotten quite a lot of attention in recent days, in light of the three CERT Coordination Center bulletins that were leaked to a mailing list in advance of their official publication.

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