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A Modest Proposal--Or An Impossible Task?

New suggested guidelines address how bug-finders should report vulnerabilities to software companies and how vendors should respond.

A team of security researchers is proposing a new set of standards for the way software vulnerabilities are discovered and publicized, addressing a growing debate over industry practices.

Software vulnerabilities discovered by researchers and users are reported in a haphazard fashion, with some bug-spotters immediately posting them on the Internet and others reporting them privately to the software makers. The new proposal aims to set a standard process for reporting bugs, thus providing "a means to address the common goal of providing more secure products while reducing the risk to customers," according to the paper.

The paper recommends that bug-finders adhere to responsible reporting practices, verifying their discoveries and contacting vendors before publicizing vulnerabilities. In turn, software makers would be expected to respond quickly to those reports and provide information about their progress in closing the holes. The process would require vendors to respond to bug reports within seven days and would set limits on how long they have to fix the problems.

Some security researchers are critical of that idea. "I think it's too anti-vendor," says Russ Cooper, editor of security mailing list NTBugtraq. "What if I'm a small vendor and this week my push is getting a new version out, and I just don't have time to fix a bug right now? It's not always possible to define the problem in the period of time that you are given."

The proposal, known as an Internet draft, was written by Steve Christey of government technology contractor Mitre Corp. and Chris Wysopal of security consulting firm @Stake Inc. It has been submitted for comment to the Internet Engineering Task Force, an international organization of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet.

The complete text of the proposal can be found at http://www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-christey-wysopal-vuln-disclosure-00.txt.

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