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Re: The legal / illegal line?
From: Chris Travers <chris () metatrontech com>
Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2007 15:24:04 -0800


I suppose I didn't add all the appropriate caveats I should have.

1) I have only resorted to this technique in the past when I have other customers relying on a given product and a small vendor is not taking that seriously. It needs to be a small vendor because as you say, you need to *know* that the person who authorizes it has the power to do so. In these cases where I have done it, it has come from appropriate C-level execs. This is also important because in this case you want to *know* that the person also has the power to fix the problem. Furthermore, even full disclosure on Bugtraq in this instance had not been enough to convince the developer that there was a problem!

2)  I would prefer to take the following actions (in order of preference):
a) Demonstrate the problem on systems I control No possibility of trespassing there. This is what I did for my customers.
  b)  Demonstrate on non-production systems with low visibility
c) Demonstrate on public demo systems (not preferred at all, but what I had to resort to for the vendor)
  d)  On production systems, you want some sort of indemnification.

3) Never forget that customers pay you to have an opinion. They are not paying you to force them to take action. So I would not alienate customers like this.

Interestingly in the case I mentioned above, it caused a lot of political problems between the vendor and I (why I wouldn't do with my customers) but he has started since then to take my security reports seriously provided that they meet certain minimal sets of criteria. Since this still isn't enough, I chose to migrate my customers away from his software (he only fixes problems that can be exploited without a valid login). But it is still a start.

I would not do it where I wasn't absolutely certain that the person I was dealing with had the authority to authorize it. I would not do it for a customer (only a vendor of my customers). I would not run the exploit on a production system. And I would not do it where there was not already substantial contact between that vendor and myself.

Best WIshes,
Chris Travers

Craig Wright wrote:
A contract can be verbal. All that is required for a contract is offer, acceptance and consideration. This said there 
is the issue of evidence.

Martin is correct when he states " Never _ever_ engage in anything without a signed "get of of jail letter"." You may 
have a contract with a verbal agreement, but you try and prove it in court.

Worse, an email (though taken as a written agreement) does not give you the ability to presume authority. The system 
admin may not have the rights to have you do the test. At least with a Deed (a signed, sealed and delivered contract 
for ease of explanation), you have something to fall on and cover your arse. If the other party had falsely attested 
that they could authorise you to do the scan, you have a piece of paper supporting this and you can make your own life 
much easier in the long run.


-----Original Message-----
From: listbounce () securityfocus com [mailto:listbounce () securityfocus com] On Behalf Of Martin Zimmermann
Sent: Tuesday, 6 March 2007 8:53 AM
To: Dotzero
Cc: pen-test () securityfocus com
Subject: Re: The legal / illegal line?

Never _ever_ engage in anything without a signed "get of of jail letter"
+ an quite specific agreement stating what you are authorized to do and
what the potentiel riscs are. Dotzero is very right in concluding that
they are _not_ in any way a client until a signed agreement exsists. I
can only imagine very few (and somewhat far fetched) situations where
you "discover" a vulnerability without "crossing the line", both in
relation to the law and morally. Besides no serious client would ever
hire a pen-test team that "pre-pens" them. It shows a complete lack of professionalism and often borders on black-mail in most situations of cases I've come across. And it qiute frankly sounds like you crossed the

Just my 1½ cent



Dotzero skrev:
The original question from Barry was about legal vs illegal. There is
only one (IMHO) answer to that question. It depends on jurisdiction.
The laws that apply in one jurisdiction may not apply in another.

I'm also concerned about Barry asking about when others "approach a
client" to tell them about their insecurities following a "simple
pen-test".. They are NOT your client unless they have engaged you.
They are a potential client. They have no relationship with you and
you have not been authorized by them to do anything on their behalf.
Even if you haven't done anything illegal, most companies I'm familiar
with would be unlikely to hire you or your company under such
circumstances. The actions you describe are indicative of a failure to
recognize appropriate boundaries.

A more reasonable approach (and one more likely to attract business)
would be to have your sales people pitch a free security assessment.
Have a standard agreement authorizing a standard but limited set of
activities that you can then use to show a potential client how they
might benefit from your services.

As usual, just my 2 cents.


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