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Re: Re: Security Bug in MSVC
From: bkfsec <bkfsec () sdf lonestar org>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 16:46:45 -0500

Jason Coombs wrote:

Just after Donnie reported this issue to Microsoft (September) we started seeing Microserfs suggest that their security team was working on a never-before-encountered novel class of vulnerability, and the implication was that Microsoft's security competency had finally surpassed both the black hats and all other white hat groups -- since it would be politically valuable for Microsoft to be able to claim that sharing source code is an unsafe behavior, and since there have been no other vulnerabilities disclosed since that time which might have appeared to Microsoft to be entirely new and far-reaching, I suspect that this disclosure prompted those previous statements about work being done by Microsoft.

How many other attacks can you point to where Microsoft's development tools are exploited to specifically target the unwary programmer who still thinks it's perfectly safe to download arbitrary data from an untrusted source and then open it in a text editor? My guess is that Donnie got Microsoft thinking about this very risk, and they started talking internally about it being an entirely new class of vulnerability. Yes, if my supposition is correct it would be quite pathetic and give us another reason to laugh at Microsoft; but you can probably see how much benefit Microsoft is going to be able to milk out of this and related attacks that exploit bugs in programmers' tools that are launched by the simple act of opening or attempting to compile a source code distribution.

Source code is just as dangerous as binary code. Clearly, the only way to be safe is to rely on Microsoft's programmers to create and digitally-sign software for us. Go Microsoft. Yeah!

But, I think that what people have been saying (and this is my take on it, as well) is that it's not a new class of vulnerabilities... it's executing programs from a script.

I think that the point that source code distributions can be trojaned (or, perhaps contain bugs that could be unintentionally malicious) is a very valid point. At the very least new "untrustworthy" code should be first run in a sandbox.

However, this is not really a revolutionary discovery by any means. Any language which is designed to run "arbitrary" code by design can be used to subvert the system. Not to mention that *knowledgable* Free Software/Open Source proponents won't even try to claim (unless over-caffeinated/over-excited) that source code distribution is inherently and automatically more secure. The argument that Free Software and Open Source methodologies increase security is the peer review argument -- that if a hole or trojan is introduced, it will eventually be found by someone who intends to review the code. The same is, possibly, not always true for proprietary software. Review of proprietary software won't always reveal answers. Considerable review of code available projects will always yield answers.

Granted the amount of time it takes for a community member to find the hole or trojan may be lengthy. The examples in the past have used sometimes well hidden methods to run the malicious code.

So, in closing, Microsoft never needed this disclosure to show that source code distribution could contain trojan code -- it's been happening in the wild for some time now. And Free Software/Open Source proponents (the knowledgable ones) never claimed that it was a surefire solution anyway. :) (A lot of relatively gullible individuals, however, have claimed as much in the past.)

Either way you color it, Free Software/Open Source still has the greater potential.


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