A collection of security companies have formed a group to create
standard policies and guidelines for how information about software
security flaws is distributed and published. Created during a series of
workshops at Microsoft Corp.'s three-day Trusted Computing Forum this
week, one of the proposed guidelines would restrict those who find
flaws in software products from publishing the methodology on how to
exploit those holes for 30 days.
"The main concept is one of acting responsibly with respect to the
disclosure of and fixing of vulnerabilities," said Eddie Schwartz,
senior vice president and chief operating officer for security company
Guardent Inc. "Right now, it's the wild wild west and even well
intentioned people don't know what to do."
The group proposed creating a "grace period" in which companies could
plug any exploits and distribute patches and tools to customers without
fear of any further exploits of the holes. The group will also create a
set of procedures that software makers must follow to ensure that users
are informed about risks and that vulnerabilities are fixed in a timely
The group was initially backed by six companies, including Microsoft,
which was the first software maker to come on board. It will urge
independent security researchers, as well as major technology companies
like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. to join, Schwartz
said. Founding members include @stake Inc., Internet Security Systems
Inc., Bindview Corp. and Foundstone Inc.
The issue is one that Microsoft is close to, as it has recently found
itself responding to security holes discovered in its products. The
company issued a security bulletin Thursday warning that information
about "cookies" in its Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6.0 browsers can be
exposed or altered, making personal information vulnerable.
Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief technology officer for advanced
strategies, addressed similar security issues during the first day of
the Trusted Computing Forum Tuesday. Mundie went as far as comparing
the malicious coders who have exploited holes in Microsoft's software
to the terrorist cells behind the attacks on the U.S.
"The evolution of hacking is very, very akin to this network of terror
cells," he said at the forum. "And there is the potential to treat them
the way we treat terrorist cells."
Scott Culp, manager of Microsoft's security response center who was
present during the working group, also published an essay earlier this
month criticizing the publication of "exploit code," which allows
computer hackers to take advantage of known vulnerabilities.
"It's high time the security community stopped providing blueprints for
building these weapons," he wrote.
However, one independent programmer who was behind identifying several
high-profile security holes, said he had doubts that the initial
proposal for the industry group will address the core problem behind
malicious attacks on software.
"I'm not sure if any hard and fast guidelines are particularly useful,"
said Marc Slemko, a Seattle-based developer, adding that a 30-day grace
period could backfire and take pressure off software makers to fix
problems quickly and accurately.
"Some don't have a user's best interest in mind," he said.
Earlier this month, Slemko published technical findings of an exploit
he discovered in Microsoft's Passport authentication service three days
after he made Microsoft aware of the problem and two days after it was
fixed. Slemko has a history of airing security flaws including one in
September that he said left Verizon Wireless Inc. vulnerable to
"It certainly is true that there are certain individuals that go about
releasing security holes in ways that are not designed in the best
interest of the companies or the users of that software," Slemko
said. "While I don't see any obligation to consider these guidelines
seriously, there are some societal responsibilities to the users of the
Guardent's Schwartz stressed that the proposals from the new group will
also force the software makers to act more responsibly.
"They're going to be under more pressure because they're going to have
reporting requirements to follow," Schwartz said.
Microsoft agreed during the conference that it must be more responsible
to ensure security in its products, he said.
"Obviously, Microsoft has some interest in this -- their customers are
getting beaten up," he said.
Inquiries about the new working group can be directed to Guardent in
Waltham, Massachusetts, at +1-781-577-6500, or online at
http://www.guardent.com/. Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Washington, can
be reached at +1-425-882-8080, or online at http://www.microsoft.com/.