The long-running debate about how fast software vendors should be required to squash bugs in their products is heating up again, following Microsoft's release on July 9 of a fix for a critical bug that had been detailed publicly by Google security researcher Tavis Ormandy seven weeks prior. Microsoft said the bug had already been exploited in "targeted attacks."
Who's right and wrong in this scenario? Ormandy, for releasing full details of a bug and a working exploit, without giving Microsoft a courtesy call and time to code a fix? Or Microsoft, for dictating the terms of the game and generally giving itself lots of time to fix bugs that aren't being actively exploited?
[ How did a hacker hijack the Emergency Alert System? Read 'Zombie Apocalypse' Broadcast Hoax Explained. ]
Regardless of your take, Google seems set to rewrite the rules of the bug-patching game, after two of its security researchers, Chris Evans and Drew Hintz, issued a warning to vendors in a May blog post: In cases of "critical vulnerabilities under active exploitation," Google will now give vendors only seven days to release a patch. After that time, Google will issue full details of the vulnerability. For anything that's not critical, Google is sticking with its recommendation to fix bugs within 60 days or else issue workarounds and mitigation techniques to affected users.
While acknowledging that the seven-day timeline is "aggressive," Evans and Hintz said everyone stands to benefit. "By holding ourselves to the same standard, we hope to improve both the state of Web security and the coordination of vulnerability management," they said in their post.
Google's revised bug-disclosure timeline is good news for all software users. "It shows that the long timeframes that the industry has been operating under -- find a vulnerability, ensure it's fixed within six months or a year -- isn't adequate," SANS Institute fellow Ed Skoudis told me in a phone interview. "So Google is trying to juice the whole thing to make it happen faster."
Skoudis added: "Microsoft got us into this mindset: You find a flaw, responsibly tell a vendor, and darn it, there will be a fix out within a year."
The annual Pwn2Own competition, hosted by Hewlett-Packard's DVLabs Zero Day Initiative (ZDI), has also been reshaping our collective patching mindset. "Google and Mozilla were able to patch the issues that were being exploited in the competition in less than two days," said ZDI manager Brian Gorenc, speaking by phone. Of course, it was in both companies' best interests to patch their browsers quickly, thus making Chrome and Firefox look better than Internet Explorer. "For actively exploited bugs, they pose an immediate problem for vendors, and they need to be pressured to act quickly," Gorenc said.