EFF questions US government's software flaw disclosure policy

The government hasn't shown that it is improving its zero-day flaw notification efforts

It's not clear if the U.S. government is living up to its promise to disclose serious software flaws to technology companies, a policy it put in place five years ago, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The digital watchdog said on Monday it received a handful of heavily redacted documents from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which it sued last July after it and the National Security Agency moved too slowly on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Last year, the EFF sought documents related to the U.S. government's efforts to beef up its Vulnerability Equities Process (VEP), a framework for notifying companies about zero-day vulnerabilities.

Those type of software flaws are considered the most dangerous since attackers are actively using the flaws to compromise computers, and there are no patches ready.

But there has been concern that the U.S. government may hold onto that kind of information for too long, putting at risk organizations that it is supposed to protect from foreign adversaries who may discover the vulnerabilities on their own.

The U.S. government has said it notifies companies of software flaws unless there is a compelling national security reason to withhold the information, such as to disrupt a planned terrorist attack, wrote Michael Daniel, cybersecurity coordinator and a special assistant to President Obama, in a blog post on the White House's website last July.

The EFF's FOIA request sought documents that showed how the U.S. had, as termed in Daniel's blog post, "re-invigorated" the VEP. The results were "surprisingly meager," wrote Andrew Crocker, a legal fellow with the EFF's civil liberties team.

The most useful document the EFF received was from 2010 but only recounted a brief history of the VEP. Other documents were so heavily redacted that the EFF had a hard time parsing the content, Crocker wrote.

Zero-day flaws are highly sought after. The U.S. government used several of them to seed Stuxnet, a worm that disrupted Iran's uranium enrichment program.

But pressure and continuing questions over the use of such information prompted a response from the government after Heartbleed, a critical vulnerability in the OpenSSL cryptographic library, was disclosed in April 2014. In a rare denial, ODNI said it did not know about Heartbleed before it became widely known, after a Bloomberg report alleged the NSA knew about it for two years.

Crocker wrote that the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden also showed that "the government apparently routinely sits on zero-days," which a presidential advisory group discouraged in December 2013.

"The VEP is supposedly an answer to these concerns, but right now it looks like just so much vaporware," he wrote.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Office of the Director of National IntelligencesecurityU.S. National Security AgencyExploits / vulnerabilitiesElectronic Frontier Foundation

More about BloombergEFFElectronic Frontier FoundationFreedomNational Security AgencyNSA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place