[ISN] Was Cigital security warning too hasty?

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Feb 15 2002 - 02:01:49 PST

  • Next message: InfoSec News: "[ISN] Freedom Network source code now available"

    By Robert Lemos 
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    February 14, 2002, 3:15 PM PT
    Security experts gave mixed reviews Thursday to the way in which a
    software-reliability company disclosed a bug in Microsoft's newest
    tools for building applications for its .Net framework and Windows
    operating system.
    Late Wednesday, Dulles, Va.-based Cigital told The Wall Street Journal
    of a flaw in Microsoft's latest tools for creating Windows and .Net
    programs after giving the software giant a little more than 12 hours
    to respond.
    Some security experts criticized the quick public announcement as
    "There is no way that Microsoft could fix this in a day," said Al
    Huger, vice president of engineering for vulnerability-information
    company SecurityFocus. "Full disclosure has to be coupled with
    responsible disclosure."
    The issue reopens a debate on how to responsibly disclose information
    about security vulnerabilities. Thoughts on disclosure range between
    two extremes: those who believe that every detail of a potential
    security threat should be publicized as soon as possible, and others
    who believe that no details of any security flaw should ever be
    Mainstream security experts typically believe that the creator of a
    flawed piece of software should first be notified and, depending on
    the seriousness of the flaw, allowed a certain amount of time to
    create a patch to fix the problem.
    On Wednesday, just hours after Microsoft announced its newest tools
    for creating .Net and Windows applications, security company Cigital
    revealed that the software giant's Visual C++.Net and Visual C++
    version 7 had a flaw that effectively rendered a security feature
    Gary McGraw, chief technology officer for Cigital, said the company
    followed the unwritten rules of responsible disclosure in the
    company's announcement.
    "Our policy depends on the nature of the flaw," he said. "If it's
    something that's out there and leaves normal users open to a 'script
    kiddie' attack, much more time is required before disclosing the
    flaw." The security community uses the term "script kiddie" to
    describe online vandals who are not that technically adept.
    In this case, however, McGraw said the tools were just announced, so
    it was more important to let developers know not to use the
    compromised feature.
    The feature, known as the GS flag, is a software switch that can be
    turned on when a program is compiled. Any program built with the
    switch turned on has additional code that checks for a frequent
    security problem, known as a buffer overflow, whenever the program is
    running. However, because of the software bug, a malicious attacker
    can easily bypass the feature, McGraw said.
    That means that while the problem doesn't make a program less secure,
    the feature promises much more than it actually delivers, he said.
    "Is this a super-terrible flaw? Absolutely not," McGraw said. "It is a
    flaw in a feature that we are urging developers not to use because
    they will have a false sense of security."
    That may not cut the mustard with Microsoft.
    The software titan has been on the warpath about responsible
    disclosure since last summer. In November the company formed a
    yet-to-be-named organization to create a set of standards for
    releasing information about software vulnerabilities.
    "We were just notified about this yesterday morning," a Microsoft
    representative said Thursday. "That raises issues about responsible
    reporting practices."
    Coincidentally, the Redmond, Wash., company is in the middle of
    reviewing the entire Windows code base for security problems. The
    efforts come a month after company Chairman Bill Gates sent a memo to
    all employees urging them to put security and privacy first.
    Yet, other security experts argue that in this case, Cigital is on
    safe ground.
    While it would have been more prudent to deal with Microsoft and give
    the giant time to respond, notifying the public of the flaw was a
    reasonable solution, said Chris Wysopal, director of research and
    development for network protection company @Stake.
    "The disclosure doesn't give the bad guys a leg up," he said. "I don't
    think it's putting people at risk when Cigital released this
    Last year, Cigital had been considered as a potential reviewer to
    check Microsoft's .Net security technology for flaws, but it lost the
    competition. Some have speculated that Cigital publicized this flaw
    out of spite.
    Cigital's McGraw took issue with the implications. "There is
    absolutely no truth in that whatsoever," he said. "We are very much
    convinced that we did the right thing and we did it in an honorable
    In addition to the outside review of the .Net framework code, done by
    security company Foundstone, Microsoft spent a month in December
    reviewing the Visual Studio.Net tools for problems. They clearly have
    room for improvement, said McGraw, so developers should learn to count
    on only themselves to produce secure code.
    "It is important for developers to really learn how to design things
    to be secure," he said, "not to rely on compiler magic to make
    security problems go away."
    ISN is currently hosted by Attrition.org
    To unsubscribe email majordomoat_private with 'unsubscribe isn' in the BODY
    of the mail.

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Feb 15 2002 - 05:15:10 PST