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Three Minutes with Rain Forest Puppy
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 03:02:53 -0500 (CDT)
[I've really got to tweak the bot that much more and give it a better
name than just bawt, after a little nudge we were able to find this
article and three minutes with Scott Culp which will get posted
tonight also. - WK]
Kim Zetter, PCWorld.com
Friday, September 28, 2001
Rain Forest Puppy (RFP) is the handle of a well-known twenty-something
hacker and security consultant based in Chicago. In addition to
authoring tools that help hackers break into systems, RFP has also
discovered a number of security holes in software products, which he
has published on the Web after notifying the software maker. He has
written a disclosure policy for publishing information about security
holes, which serves as a guideline for other bug hunters. PC World
spoke with him about the protocol for publicizing vulnerabilities and
the pros and cons of full disclosure.
PCW: What led you to draft your disclosure policy for publishing
software security holes?
RFP: I started looking at the discussions that were going back and
forth between vendors and researchers about disclosing bugs. A
researcher would disclose a bug without talking to a vendor first, and
the vendor would say that the unwritten rule was that the researcher
had to tell the vendor first. The term "unwritten rules" kept coming
up, and I thought that's the problem, they're unwritten. So I took a
stab at writing my own, for my personal use, to get the ball rolling.
PCW: Are you surprised that your policy has become the industry
RFP: I wouldn't say it's an industry standard. A lot of people have
taken it and modified it to draft their own. I'm not trying to impose
it on other people. I talked to a lot of people in drafting it to get
a general consensus, but my way is not necessarily the only way to do
PCW: What has been the response from vendors toward your policy?
RFP: Microsoft is for it. They're the only vendor I really got
feedback from. I've seen people use it with other vendors, but I
haven't really discussed with anyone whether everyone was receptive to
PCW: Is the five-day window that you give vendors to respond to a
report about a vulnerability appropriate? For instance, in the case of
companies that don't have an organized response team set up, it might
take them five days just to read your e-mail.
RFP: My policy is that they've got one week, five working days, to
return communication. If they don't acknowledge it in a week--if
they're on vacation or whatever--then that's already a poor
response. Because if you're pushing products out, and you're having
security problems, and it takes you a week to even become aware of
them, then that's a problem in itself. We're just talking about a
matter of initiating communication, not the time in which they need to
get the fix out. Some people do have a policy that says you have seven
days to fix this or I'm releasing the announcement. Of course, that's
impractical in some situations.
At least, acknowledge [my e-mail], tell me what you're doing to fix
the problem. If you need more time, tell me the reasons why you need
more time, just explain it to me and be honest. The policy is not
about how to disclose the vulnerability, it's more about how to get
both parties to effectively open a communication channel and what each
one should expect from each other.
PCW: In general, how good are vendors at responding to problems?
RFP: They're getting a little better. The big players at least have
become aware of the need to respond and are doing the right thing. The
problem is the rapid introduction of new vendors--on a daily basis
there are more and more people getting into the game, making software,
pushing out products. While one or two vendors start to get it, you
have four or five new ones--the mom-and-pop-shops--that haven't
encountered this issue yet.
PCW: Is the ratio of holes to lines of code in software getting worse?
RFP: I don't think the ratio is getting worse, the amount of code is
increasing. Everyone is doing it bigger and better at such a rapid
rate; the code base is just expanding at an enormous rate and because
of that bugs are introduced.
PCW: Consumers blame vendors for getting products out too quickly and
not putting the effort or money into testing. Is it correct to blame
RFP: A company will not sell products if security is its number one
focus. Getting the product out to the customer, having it work, and
making the money are all first, and security falls down on the list
into sixth or seventh place as far as priorities. It really comes down
to risk mitigation. If one or two bugs leak through, are they willing
to accept that risk? Do they spend extra money and delay the product
announcement? If they do, then that affects sales. Unfortunately,
that's how business practices are today. It's the push to market
attitude: let's just get it out and then we'll go back and fix it
But I guess it comes down to who do you blame for a Web-site
defacement: the hacker who defaced it, the system administrator who
didn't secure his box, or the software vendor because there was a bug
in the OS program?
We should really stop looking at trying to point fingers and just get
the problem fixed.
PCW: Isn't that what the hacking community is doing, though, laying
blame on vendors when they publish a vulnerability announcement and
deriding vendors for shoddy products?
RFP: No, we're trying to get the bugs fixed. If the vendor is
responsible and we can open up a communication channel, then we
succeed at that.
PCW: You sometimes work closely with Microsoft to help them find and
fix holes in their products. What is your relationship with the
RFP: When I find a vulnerability, I'll follow my policy with them. As
long as they're receptive and keep communication open and keep me in
loop, I'll work with them.
PCW: When was the last time you found a bug in one of their products?
RFP: That would be the Unicode bug which I found last December. They
were immediately responsive. I mailed them at around 2 a.m. on a
Friday night and got a response from them a couple of minutes
later. They had a patch turned around in two days.
PCW: Which other software vendors do you work with?
RFP: A lot of smaller vendors which tend to be free software
vendors. I really try to help them out on a personal level because
it's typically a hobby product [of the maker]. Some of them are
responsive and some of them aren't. I try to take the time to explain
why they should be receptive and to explain the problem. Here are some
patches that they should apply [to their product] and why.
PCW: Are software vendors lazy when it comes to testing their
RFP: They don't take the time to find problems. The historical record
is great right now with information about vulnerabilities. And if a
vendor, before making product xyz, would go to the historical security
record and look at other products that are similar to xyz and see what
bugs those products had and double-check to make sure that their
product doesn't have them, I think a lot of the vulnerabilities would
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- Three Minutes with Rain Forest Puppy InfoSec News (Oct 04)