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Re: DJB's students release 44 *nix software vulnerability advisories
From: Stephen Samuel <samuel () bcgreen com>
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2004 11:39:49 -0800

Side effects is my issue here.

It'a a fine thing to encourage programers to design their software well,
and fix bugs quickly. I've got no problems with punnishing programmers
for bad code, but there are different issues to deal with in the classroom
and out in the wild.

If you wanted to run a course where students are failed for having one bug
in a 10,000 line project, they were aware of the standards going in, and
given the training and tools such that the standard wss achievable, not
only wouldn't I have a problem with it -- I'd encourage everybody I knew
to hire anybody who passed the course.  (at least, anybody I knew who
gave a rat's ass about producing quality code).

When dealing with code out in the wild, however, you have two communities
to consider -- the programming community and the user community. Hmm. OK,
three -- there's also the cracking community.
We're now living in a world where the time from description of a bug
and creation of a commercially viable exploit can approach zero.  The
'commercially viable' exploits are viruses and worms used to generate
zombie armies of tens of thousands of remote-controllable 'bot machines
that can spread spam, launch DDOS exploits and do whatever else their
controllers wish.

Out in the wild, there is a wide gamut of care about producing quality
code and fixing bugs.  At one extreme is Microsoft taking about 6 months
to *NOT* fix a security bug in WMP 9. (The fix is only available in WMP
10 released this week).  That the programmer who reported the bug to MS
would wait the 6 months for _any_ real response from MS, I would agree
with your probble determination that it is a disservice to the user
community and does little more than reward MS for "trying to protect
their shoddy security practices."

Near the other extreme are BSD coders working feverishly to fix a bug
(and find any related errors) with _theoretical_ secrity issues in
their code in mere hours because the code was security related and they
felt a very real responsibility to ensure that their community had secure

I would think that an optimal responsible disclosure policy should be
designed to (as much as possible) punnish the former while enabling the
latter.  Not all coders hav achieved your standard of never, ever
releasing buggy code at any time of their life. As much as we may wish
otherwise, I doubt that that day will arrive soon either.  A realistic
disclosure policy needs to take into accunt the interests of the three
communities I mentioned above.

I would suggest that a realistic disclosure policy would:

1) Discourage and punnish shoddy security practices.
2) Enable responsible software maintainers to realisticly respond
   to bugs.
3) Give the user community timely and usable information about bugs in
   the code that they're using.
4) Minimize the ability of the cracker community to exploit these bugs
   before 1 and 2 have

Your zero Time To Respond approach would address 1, but do nothing
to astisfy 2-4.  It doesn't so much punnish bad programmers as it
does encourage crackers to read your missives.  Even the best of
programmers have to sleep, and if you release your exploit just
exploit just as the team/person responsible for the maintenance of
a piece of software is going to sleep, crackers will have up to
8 hours to code and use your bug before the responsible programmer
even wakes up to read the email about exploited code.

Even if rd party coders have managed to generate a fix, there won't
be an official release of the fix until the responsibe programmers
have at least had an opportunity to vette the proposed fixes.

A reasonable and responsible disclosure policy should be to (unless
there are signs that an exploit is already in use) allow responsible
a realistic (if short) opportunity to fix the instant bug and audit
their code for similar errors -- thus at least allowing the
*possibility* that a fix could be released at the same time as the
announcement of the bug.

If a fix can be announced at the same time as the bug, users have an
opportunity to install the fix while crackers are still crafting a
commercial exploit.

I don't think that 24-48 hours (or even longer) is an unreasonable
arning time for unexploited bugs.  I'm not asking for time to 'be
delusional', I'm asking for a reasonable ammount of time for a
responsible programmer to ensure that his/her user community is
properly served and protected from the effects of the bugs.

6 months with no fix, on the other hand is obscene. I honestly
doubt if companies like Microsoft will ever treat Security as
a genuine responsibility aas opposed to a PR issue.  On the other
hand, it is far less likely that they'll start responding
reasonably if they don't even have a hope of being able to craft
a fix before crackers have created a 'live' exploit.

D. J. Bernstein wrote:
> Shu T. Messenger writes:
>>In each case, Professor Bernstein notified the author of the
>>vulnerable package on Dec 15 via e-mail. This mail hit Bugtraq on the
>>16th, giving one day for vendors to provide fixes.
> Actually, I sent all of these notifications to the public securesoftware
> mailing list (http://securesoftware.list.cr.yp.to) at the same time that
> I sent them to the authors. It certainly wasn't my intention to give the
> authors an extra day of self-delusion.
>>Is the class on responsible disclosure next semester perhaps?

Also posted: http://www.bcgreen.com/comments/2004/bug-release.html
Stephen Samuel +1(604)876-0426                samuel () bcgreen com
   Powerful committed communication. Transformation touching
     the jewel within each person and bringing it to light.

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