Hacked Opinions: Vulnerability disclosure - Andrew Avanessian

Avecto's Andrew Avanessian talks about disclosure, bounty programs, and vulnerability marketing with CSO, in the first of a series of topical discussions with industry leaders and experts.

Hacked Opinions is an ongoing series of Q&As with industry leaders and experts on a number of topics that impact the security community. The first set of discussions focus on disclosure and how pending regulation could impact it. In addition, we asked about marketed vulnerabilities such as Heartbleed and bounty programs, do they make sense?

CSO encourages everyone to take part in the Hacked Opinions series. If you would like to participate, email Steve Ragan with your answers to the questions presented in this Q&A, or feel free to suggest topics for future consideration.

Where do you stand: Full Disclosure, Responsible Disclosure, or somewhere in the middle?

Andrew Avanessian, VP, Avecto (AA): I think vendors should always practice responsible disclosure where possible, but this requires the organization be in alignment with researchers and really take them seriously. Some research staff struggle to report vulnerabilities they have discovered, as it can often result in them being ignored, treated with great suspicion or even threatened. This kind response often makes people less willing to go the responsible disclosure route.

If a researcher chooses to follow responsible / coordinated disclosure and the vendor goes silent -- or CERT stops responding to them -- is Full Disclosure proper at this point? If not, why not?

AA: This is a really fine line most researchers will make a very concerted effort to contact the right people; however, some consider one brief email fired to a generic info@ address to be enough.

Going down the full disclosure route should really be a last resort. Even though they are looking ahead to fix a long-term issue, it can create a lot of short-term damage. This decision should be taken on a case by case basis and we possibly need to look at industry wide Bug Bounty programs to act as independent arbitrators.

Bug Bounty programs are becoming more common, but sometimes the reward being offered is far less than the perceived value of the bug / exploit. What do you think can be done to make it worth the researcher's time and effort to work with a vendor directly?

AA: There is often a stigma associated with acknowledging and rewarding those who find bugs. I think Bug Bounty programs are still maturing and they will naturally find a fair market value.

Many researchers would prefer acknowledgement and praise of their work rather than a few more dollars, so where possible, it would be good to see vendors working with researchers rather than handing them cash and shutting the door in their face.

Do you think vulnerability disclosures with a clear marketing campaign and PR process, such as Heartbleed, POODLE, or Shellshock, have value?

AA: This leads back to the point about granting reward and recognition to Bug Bounty programs. Many feel that the best way to gain recognition and coverage is to launch a PR campaign.

The problem with these campaigns is that some of them become overhyped and just serve to grab a few more headlines without actually dealing with the issue. If vendors are willing to work with and publically acknowledge researchers' efforts, this will add far more value for both parties.

If the proposed changes pass, how do you think Wassenaar will impact the disclosure process? Will it kill full disclosure with proof-of-concept code, or move researchers away from the public entirely preventing serious issues from seeing the light of day? Or, perhaps, could it see a boom in responsible disclosure out of fear of being on the wrong side of the law?

AA: The addition of cyberweapons to the Wassenaar Arrangement has caused a great deal of concern among researchers who fear the legal repercussions of disclosing vulnerabilities. In the short term, I can see many will be sitting on zero-days and POC code which is not good for the industry as a whole.

Even with explicit exemptions for open source software, researchers could technically be in breach of export restrictions if they travel with unpublished POC code on a device. If the proposed changes pass, there needs to be clear and explicit guidance for researchers, Bug Bounty programs and security conferences. Without these, we are in danger of slowing the advance of security and driving more exploits to the black market.

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