Security Vendor Cuts Ties With CERT

Prominent security vendor NGS says CERT gave advance notice of vulnerabilties to vendors, government officials.

A prominent U.K.-based security vendor well-known for finding dangerous vulnerabilities in a variety of software said on Monday that it would no longer work with the CERT Coordination Center after CERT personnel gave advance notice of several new vulnerabilities to a software vendor and some government officials.

Researchers at Next Generation Security Software Ltd. were angered when a representative from a software vendor told them that CERT had a policy of providing advance information on vulnerabilities to some organizations and government agencies, which pay for this privilege. Mark Litchfield, co-founder of NGS Software, said he was unaware of the policy and was unhappy that CERT was collecting money for research that his company had done. While he acknowledged that CERT is a non-profit organization, Litchfield disputes its right to charge for others work.

"My problem is that we provide CERT with this information with the sole view to using their own database of security alert subscribers to help the administrator of a corporate network become aware of the situation [and] the impact it has to them with the hope that there would be an increase in the uptake of patching," Litchfield said. "I do not wish to help them in any fashion profiting from our hard research. We dont even profit from it, why should they?"

CERT, based at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is partially funded by the federal government and serves as an independent clearinghouse of vulnerability and threat information. Its database of vulnerabilities is one of the most comprehensive anywhere.

Security researchers routinely provide CERT with advance notification of flaws, typically at the same time they notify the affected vendors. Publication of vendor bulletins is often timed to coincide with the release of a CERT advisory and the researchers own bulletin.

The question of when and how to release vulnerability information is the subject of much debate within the security community. Vendors and some researchers favor controlled releases through organizations such as CERT, which they argue helps reduce the chances of crackers getting vulnerability information before a patch is available. Other researchers choose to release information on their own, some without ever contacting the affected vendors.

Litchfields company has trod the middle ground, always contacting vendors but sometimes releasing information before a patch is ready if the vendor fails to react in a timely manner.

NGS Software is best known for hunting down buffer overruns, often in popular products from Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. In fact, the company last July discovered the vulnerability that the SQL Slammer worm exploits.

Litchfield said he offered to work with CERT under a mutual non-disclosure agreement, which CERT officials declined to do. He said that in the future, NGS Software, based in Surrey, England, will only work directly with the vendors affected by the vulnerabilities his company finds.