Microsoft Revamps Patch Tuesday Warning Process

Software giant will share vulnerability data early with third parties, create 'Exploitability Index' for newly found flaws

LAS VEGAS -- Black Hat USA 2008 -- As hackers and researchers get ready to unveil their latest vulnerability findings here, Microsoft today announced that it is improving its methods for sharing and categorizing the vulns that affect Windows and its other applications.

"The introduction of these new programs helps address evolving online threats and provides more practical guidance to assess and manage risk," said Andrew Cushman, director of security response and outreach at Microsoft. "In the race between exploit and protection, Microsoft is committed to shifting the advantage to the security industry."

Microsoft launched the Microsoft Active Protections Program (MAPP), which gives security software providers "advance information" about the vulnerabilities addressed by Microsoft security updates. By sharing its vulnerability findings with third-party security vendors earlier, the software giant hopes to speed the development and delivery of patches and updates that address those flaws.

Microsoft also introduced its "Exploitability Index," which is designed to help users handicap the likelihood that a newly announced vulnerability will immediately result in active exploits by hackers. The Exploitability Index will be included as part of Microsoft’s monthly Patch Tuesday security bulletin releases, beginning in October.

The Exploitability Index might help users decide how swiftly they need to issue the patches that Microsoft issues each month. Currently, the software giant rates vulnerabilities on a scale of "critical," "serious," and so forth. The new index will rate vulnerabilities as "consistent exploit code likely," "inconsistent exploit code likely," or "functional exploit code unlikely."

"This additional information helps customers better assess their unique risks and better prioritize deployment of the monthly security update," Microsoft said.

"The [current] MSRC Bulletin Severity Rating system assumes that exploitation will be successful" a Microsoft spokesperson explained. "For some vulnerabilities where exploitability is high, this assumption is very likely to be true for a broad set of attackers. For other vulnerabilities where exploitability is low, this assumption may only be true by a dedicated attacker putting a lot of resources into ensuring their attack is successful.

"Microsoft will never recommend customers not to deploy an update, regardless of the Bulletin Severity rating or Exploitability Index," the spokesperson continued. "However, this information can assist sophisticated customers prioritize their approach to each month’s release."

The MAPP progrom will enable security software providers to be briefed on Microsoft's vulnerability findings before they are made public, speeding the development of patches and updates, the company said. However, the company isn't allowing researchers into the program. In order to join, a member must "offer commercial protection features to Microsoft customers" to a large number of customers. Members may not sell attack-oriented tools, the company said.

Microsoft will be blogging and offering its own views on the Black Hat conference this week through a new offering called the Microsoft Black Hat pressroom.

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