Vendors that sell security products are not immune from researchers and threat actors seeking to find vulnerabilities to exploit in their technologies. In fact, the more popular a security vendor is, the more likely its products will be probed for weaknesses.
Two cases in point: network security vendor FireEye and antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab over the weekend were faced with very public and critical bug disclosures in their products.
In FireEye’s case, California-based security researcher Kristian Hermansen publicly disclosed a zero-day vulnerability in one of its threat prevention appliances that the researcher said could result in unauthorized file disclosure.
Information published by Hermansen on Exploit Database described the issue as one that offered attackers remote root file access on affected systems. "Oh cool, web server runs as root!" Hermansen wrote. "Now that's excellent security from a security vendor. Why would you trust these people to have this device on your network?"
Hermansen claimed the exploit was one of "many handfuls" of FireEye and Mandiant zero-day flaws that he had been sitting on for more than 18 months awaiting a fix from FireEye.
In separate Twitter messages, Hermansen claimed he had discovered at least three other zero-day vulnerabilities in FireEye products that he was willing to sell to whoever wanted to purchase them. He described the flaws as a login bypass 0 day, an unauthenticated command injection remote root vulnerability, and an authenticated command injection remote root flaw.
Vitor De Souza, vice president of global communications at FireEye, criticized the manner in which Hermansen had disclosed the vulnerability information.
"We are dealing with an unique situation because of the way this researcher disclosed these issues -- very irresponsible and unprofessional," De Souza says. Contrary to Hermansen’s claims and some published reports, the security researcher did not previously disclose details of the flaw to FireEye, according to De Souza. Instead, he reached out to FireEye claiming he had found several vulnerabilities in the company’s products and demanded payment for it, De Souza says.
At that point, FireEye asked Hermansen to submit details of the flaw via the company’s formal bug reporting process but the security researcher did not follow-up, De Souza says. "We learned about the vulnerability for the first time yesterday along with everyone else," he says.
In a statement, FireEye said that an initial review of Hermansen’s claims show that the bug impacts a legacy version of the FireEye endpoint platform. "Recent updates have reduced the impact of this issue to customers running legacy versions of the product (HX 2.1.x and DMZ 2.1.x)," the statement said.
"However, in order to eliminate risk immediately, FireEye strongly recommends upgrading to the current release (version 2.6.x) of the HX product."
De Souza estimates that barely one dozen FireEye customers worldwide currently use the affected product. FireEye plans to patch the disclosed vulnerability on or before Sept. 28, he says.
FireEye has reached out to Hermansen for more information on the publicly disclosed flaw as well as the three other ones he claims to have discovered, but the researcher has not responded as yet. "He is trying to make this a financial event," De Souza says, adding that FireEye like many other security vendor does not offer bug bounties.
Kaspersky Lab, meanwhile, quickly released a patch for a buffer-overflow vulnerability in the 2015 and 2016 versions of its core antivirus suite. Tavis Ormandy, an information security engineer at Google, discovered the flaw and reported it to Kaspersky over the weekend. "It's a remote, zero interaction SYSTEM exploit, in default config. So, about as bad as it gets," Ormandy said in a tweet describing the flaw.
In a tweet yesterday, he suggested that he had found many more exploitable flaws in Kaspersky’s products for the company to investigate: "I'll triage the remaining bugs tomorrow," he posted.
A statement released by Kaspersky said a fix for the flaw that Ormandy disclosed has already been distributed via automatic updates to all of the company’s clients. "We’re improving our mitigation strategies to prevent exploiting of inherent imperfections of our software in the future," through technologies like Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) and Data Execution Prevention (DEP), the company said.
Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with IDC, says the disclosures show no software is invulnerable and enterprises should recognize that fact. At the same time, "situations like this also highlight the cognitive dissonance that many security researchers have about risk -- claiming to help reduce risk when in actuality they are perfectly willing to increase it, and usually do," through their public vulnerability disclosures, he says.
"Operational security for cybersecurity vendors is paramount," says Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at security vendor Trend Micro. "The more successful the technology, the more likely the Blackhat community will identify the chinks in the armor."
Success for companies like FireEye comes with a price, in the form of increased interest from security researchers, he says. "Compromise means you have full visibility of the network -complete with a very nice box that has lots of nice monitoring tools built in for you," Kellermann says.Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio