Posts tagged security-marketplace

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The Vulnerability Protection Racket

TippingPoint’s Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) gives interesting data.  TippingPoint’s ZDI has made public its “disclosure pipeline” on August 28, 2006.  As of today, it has 49 vulnerabilities from independent researchers, which have been waiting on average 114 days for a fix.  There are also 12 vulnerabilities from TippingPoint’s researchers as well.  With those included, the average waiting time for a fix is 122 days, or about 4 months!  Moreover, 56 out of 61 are high severity vulnerabilities.  These are from high profile vendors: Microsoft, HP, Novell, Apple, IBM Tivoli, Symantec, Computer Associates, Oracle…  Some high severity issues have been languishing for more than 9 months.

Hum.  ZDI is supposed to be a “best-of-breed model for rewarding security researchers for responsibly disclosing discovered vulnerabilities. ”  How is it responsible to take 9 months to fix a known but secret high severity vulnerability?  It’s not directly ZDI’s fault that the vendors are taking so long, but then it’s not providing much incentive either to the vendors.  This suggests that programs like ZDI’s have a pernicious effect.  They buy the information from researchers, who are then forbidden from disclosing the vulnerabilities.  More vulnerabilities are found due to the monetary incentive, but only people paying for protection services have any peace of mind.  The software vendors don’t care much, as the vulnerabilities remain secret.  The rest of us are worse off than before because more vulnerabilities remain secret for an unreasonable length of time.

Interestingly, this is what was predicted several years ago in “Market for Software Vulnerabilities?  Think Again” (2005) Kannan K and Telang R, Management Science 51, pp. 726-740.  The model predicted worse social consequences from these programs than no vulnerability handling at all due to races with crackers, increased vulnerability volume, and unequal protection of targets.  This makes another conclusion of the paper interesting and likely valid:  CERT/CC offering rewards to vulnerability discoverers should provide the best outcomes, because information would be shared systematically and equally.  I would add that CERT/CC is also in a good position to find out if a vulnerability is being exploited in the wild, in which case it can release an advisory and make vulnerability information public sooner.  A vendor like TippingPoint has a conflict of interest in doing so, because it decreases the value of their protection services.

I tip my hat to TippingPoint for making their pipeline information public.  However, because they provide no deadlines to vendors or incentives for responsibly patching the vulnerabilities, the very existence of their services and similar ones from other vendors are hurting those who don’t subscribe.  That’s what makes vulnerability protection services a racket. 


Stuck in a Rut—Still

[tags]security marketplace, firewalls, IDS, security practices, RSA conference[/tags]
As I’ve written here before, I believe that most of what is being marketed for system security is misguided and less than sufficient.  This has been the theme of several of my invited lectures over the last couple of years, too.  Unless we come to realize that current “defenses” are really attempts to patch fundamentally faulty designs, we will continue to fail and suffer losses.  Unfortunately, the business community is too fixated on the idea that there are quick fixes to really investigate (or support) the kinds of long-term, systemic R&D that is needed to really address the problems.

Thus, I found the RSA conference and exhibition earlier this month to be (again) discouraging this year.  The speakers basically kept to a theme that (their) current solutions would work if they were consistently applied.  The exhibition had hundreds of companies displaying wares that were often indistinguishable except for the color of their T-shirts—anti-virus, firewalls (wireless or wired), authentication and access control, IDS/IPS, and vulnerability scanning.  There were a couple of companies that had software testing tools, but only 3 of those, and none marketing suites of software engineering tools.  A few companies had more novel solutions—I was particular impressed by a few that I saw, such as the policy and measurement-based offerings by CoreTrace, ProofSpace, and SignaCert. (In the interest of full disclosure, SignaCert is based around one of my research ideas and I am an advisor to the company.)  There were also a few companies with some slick packaging of older ideas (Yoggie being one such example) that still don’t fix underlying problems, but that make it simpler to apply some of the older, known technologies.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that RSA didn’t have much new to offer this year, either.

When there is a vendor-oriented conference that has several companies marketing secure software development suites that other companies are using (not merely programs to find flaws in C and Java code), when there are booths dedicated to secured mini-OS systems for dedicated tasks, and when there are talks scheduled about how to think about limiting functionality of future offerings so as to minimize new threats, then I will have a sense that the market is beginning to move in the direction of maturity.  Until then, there are too many companies selling snake oil and talismans—and too many consumers who will continue to buy those solutions because they don’t want to give up their comfortable but dangerous behaviors.  And any “security” conference that has Bill Gates as keynote speaker—renowned security expert that he is—should be a clue about what is more important for the conference attendees: real security, or marketing.

Think I am too cynical?  Watch the rush into VoIP technologies continue, and a few years from now look at the amount of phishing, fraud, extortion and voice-spam we will have over VoIP, and how the market will support VoIP-enabled versions of some of the same solutions that were in Moscone Center this year.  Or count the number of people who will continue to mail around Word documents, despite the growing number of zero-day and unpatched exploits in Word.  Or any of several dozen current and predictable dangers that aren’t “glitches”—they are the norm.  if you really pay attention to what happens, then maybe you’ll become cynical, too. 

If not, there’s always next year’s RSA Conference.