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Re: On product vulnerability history and vulnerability complexity
From: Gadi Evron <ge () linuxbox org>
Date: Mon, 03 Apr 2006 21:12:13 +0200

Crispin Cowan wrote:
Kind of: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but that
applies both ways. The absence of a vulnerability history does not
indicate that the product is secure or insecure, it indicates that no
one has looked, or at least no one has reported looking.

Like you stated earlier, our history and statistics gathering in the industry are very lacking and self-biased at best. Still, this really is the case of "the truth is probably somewhere in the middle".

Looking at how many past vulnerabilities were found, and of what types, does tell you something. Looking at what the code looks like tells you a bunch. As an example, if a product has 5 basic buffer overflows every year, obviously something is wrong there. If the vulnerabilities are obscure at best rather than basic buffer overflows - we can at least tell it wasn't the coder being bad but rather something that can happen to anyone.

Looking even at web applications and their history one can easily tell if:
1. They are professionally written.
2. The vulnerabilities seen before and the ones we could find are not trivial or really say anything about the coder.

That's how we chose WordPress for blogging.

I don't see why closed-source software should be any different.

I recently had a chat with a friend and we talked exactly on this issue:

Although there is some un-touched code-base around (Excel being a recent example)... Looking at Microsoft's software of today, it is extremely well-written and professional. Far beyond that of most others. Finding vulnerabilities in them is extremely difficult. Most vulnerabilities you will find will be logical in nature and not easy.

That does not come to speak to my (bad to worse) opinion of their disclosure handling process, etc., but rather to show that they indeed seriously changed in that regard.

Consider Postfix and Qmail again; neither has any substantive history of
vulnerabilities, but both have a substantive history of fussing over
whether some arcane anomaly is a vulnerability or not. This indicates
that people were looking really hard at them. This is a very good thing.
We need some way to capture that.

That is key, as today's data is very lacking to base much on. But we use what we have, right?


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