[ISN] Security woes: Who is to blame?

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 00:50:32 PST

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    By Robert Lemos
    Special to CNET News.com 
    November 8, 2001, 12:00 p.m. PT 
    newsmakers As the man who has to defend Microsoft's stance on Internet
    security, Scott Culp has his work cut out for him.
    However, Microsoft--for so long on the defensive against hackers and
    online vandals--has decided to become more aggressive about getting
    its message out. And that has put Culp, the software giant's manager
    for security response, on the front lines.
    In a recent essay posted on Microsoft's security site, for example,
    Culp decried what he called "information anarchy"--the practice of not
    only finding flaws in software, but also of publishing methods of
    taking advantage of those flaws.
    The issue is not new, but Culp's article marked the beginning of a
    push by Microsoft to call the security industry and hackers into
    account for distributing dangerous code. In many ways it isn't
    surprising, since Microsoft loses face every time a widespread
    security incident compromises its software.
    However, if new vulnerability disclosure policies become widespread
    and cut down on the number of worms and attacks targeted at Internet
    companies, everyone stands to gain. CNET News.com caught up with Culp
    and quizzed him on Microsoft's new push for limited vulnerability
    disclosure and what the high-tech industry has to do to better secure
    its systems and networks.
    Q: Why the name information anarchy?
    A: Well, because it's accurate. The practice that the essay was
    discussing was the practice of throwing exploit information out freely
    on the Internet without regard to how it might be used. There has been
    a long debate, for years, about how much information ought be
    disclosed about security vulnerabilities. And for the longest time,
    folks arguing both pro and con could cite theory about why their
    position was correct. But the five worms (Ramen, 1i0n, Sadmind, Code
    Red and Nimda) that were released over the past year answer the
    question with actual data and conclusively.
    What does that tell you?
    Those five worms tell us the posting exploit information on the Web is
    harmful and dangerous. In all five cases, the worms were built using
    information that was publicly posted on the Web and posted to no good
    Are you trying to hush up those that find these vulnerabilities?
    Absolutely not. Our reputation and our practices speak for themselves.
    Nobody else in the industry is as open about reporting their own
    security vulnerabilities in their own products as Microsoft is. That's
    not going to change. And that is not what the essay is calling for.
    The essay is not calling for people to refrain from looking for
    security vulnerabilities, to stop reporting them to the vendors, to
    stop telling customers about them. We don't want to change any of
    that.  The only thing that we are suggesting is that reasonable people
    should be able to agree that telling bad guys how to use those
    vulnerabilities to attack innocent users is wrong.
    As far as releasing information and vulnerabilities, what about
    reports that the latest Windows XP patch has five security fixes, but
    only two are documented?
    It's interesting that you can claim that you can know and don't know
    how many vulnerabilities are being fixed in the patch while at the
    same time saying you know how many fixes are in the patch. That seems
    to be a logical contradiction.
    But let's talk about that update. It's the first critical update for
    Windows XP and contains all the fixes to Windows XP between the
    release to manufacturing and its availability in the market on 25
    October. The idea between doing a single fix is that it is more
    convenient for customers because you only have to apply the one fix
    and you get everything. It can be applied at install time.
    So when are you going to let users know what's in the fix on the
    security side?
    The documentation that was released with the bundle discusses fixes
    that are not related to security and the documentation also discussed
    one vulnerability with Internet Explorer 6. And we released a
    vulnerability advisory last week that discusses a denial of service
    vulnerability. There is at least one other vulnerability that is
    corrected by that update for which a bulletin has not been yet
    released. And the reason is that we are completing the patches for
    other products that are affected by that vulnerability.  If we were to
    release information on that vulnerability at this point, it would put
    users of that other system at risk. But the minute we release the
    bulletin, we will tell customers what the fix is. What we are not
    going to do is make the information public when patches are not
    available for other affected systems, because that would put people at
    risk. This is consistent with what we are describing in the essay.
    How much of a difference will your new initiative make to Internet
    security? Are we going to see a big decrease in the number of worms?
    We have to be realistic. There will be malicious users who will write
    malicious code. They will probably write worms, and they will attack
    users. The number of incidents will almost certainly be smaller than
    the number of incidents we have today. Judging by those five worms
    that tore through the Internet over the past year, recognizing that
    all of them relied on information that was posted to the Internet, we
    believe that denying malicious users that information can only help
    things. But we are realistic. We know it's not a panacea. We know that
    it won't solve the problems overnight, but it would raise the bar, and
    it would help the cause of security for our users.
    Are you going for a mutual consensus of people here? What happens when
    a hacker finds a hole in some software package and posts it to a
    bulletin board or Usenet list? Is there anything you can do about
    Microsoft is not the world's policeman. There is only so much that
    Microsoft can do. And the extent of what we are advocating now is
    self-restraint. We are not advocating the creation of cybercrime laws
    to prevent the posting of exploit code; we are not for any kind of
    punitive or coercive measures. We believe that security professionals,
    for the most part, are in this business to protect users--and that
    when they understand that certain actions are really protecting users,
    they'll do the right thing. So our goal here is, working with the rest
    of the industry, to try to develop some reasonable and moderate
    standards for handling security vulnerabilities that are likely to
    have the desired effect--that is protecting users.
    It's been a bad summer for security. Code Red, Nimda, a Passport
    vulnerability. There are those who might think this initiative is all
    about limiting the bad press that Microsoft has gotten in the wake of
    these attacks.
    That's not true. There are a lot of dimensions to the problem of
    improving security. One of them is that vendors need to write better
    software, and we certainly count ourselves in that circle. We need to
    develop more secure products; we need to make it easier for people to
    manage their security on their machines. And we have been very
    up-front about our obligation to do that and our intention to do that.
    For instance, the Strategic Technology Protection Program that we
    rolled out a few weeks ago. For the most part, it's a listing of the
    specific things we are going to change in our products to make them
    more secure. We have talked in the past about the secure Windows
    initiative and the steps we are taking at Microsoft to change our
    development practices so we can produce more secure software. We are
    absolutely committed to improving our products and realize that's an
    important dimension of the problem. But the handling of security
    vulnerabilities is another important dimension of the problem. We want
    to talk about all the dimensions at once.
    Along those lines, what are we going to see in the future.
    Vulnerability disclosure has been an issue for a long time and most
    likely will continue to be an issue in the future. Are we going to see
    new initiatives from Microsoft to secure products?
    The essay was intended to jump-start the debate in the community. We
    don't have all the answers. We are looking to other industry leaders
    to help us figure out what the next step needs to be. The essay was a
    problem statement--it identified a problem that needs to be solved. It
    wasn't intended to propose a solution; It was intended to start a
    debate about the problem. That's what we are here at the Trusted
    Computing Conference to do. We hope at the end of the conference we
    have some recommendations that we and the rest of the industry can
    make. You are right that this is an issue that has been talked about
    for years. Our perspective is that it is time to stop talking. We all
    understand what the problem is. Now it is time as an industry to come
    up with a plan of what we are going to do to solve the problem and
    then start executing on the plan.
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