Enterprises Mull Own Bug Research

To bug hunt or not to bug hunt - that's the question enterprises face

Not my job: That's how many enterprises feel about vulnerability testing software responsibilities falling on their shoulders.

Vulnerability researchers and product vendors say the time has come, however, for enterprises to step up and hunt for bugs not only in their internal apps, but also in third-party software -- including security tools. Several of the world's top researchers discussed the potential for enterprises to use their testing as leverage in their keynote panel at the Gartner IT Security Summit last week. (See Using Bugs as Leverage.)

But not all enterprises welcome the advice. Many say they are already resource-strapped and don't have the time or expertise to do full-blown vuln testing and research. They often can't get support from upper management, either. Others said off the record that some researchers were out of touch with the realities of the enterprise if they think scanning each and every enterprise app is feasible.

Thomas Ptacek, principal and founder of Matasano Security and one of the Gartner panelists, agrees there's a disconnect. "It's like the prom -- the vulnerability researchers are on one side of the room and the security teams are on the other," he says. "We've talked to lots of people who simply couldn't imagine finding someone to do vulnerability testing in their enterprise... ' Where would they find them?' "

He agrees with enterprises. "I'd be upset too if I was in their shoes. Over and over again we keep testing products where our results make it clear that they've [the vendors] never bothered to do real testing of their own."

So some level of vulnerability testing and vetting of third-party software and security tools is inevitable, security experts say, whether you do it yourself or outsource it to a WhiteHat Security or Veracode, for instance. (See Want Turns to Need and Security Startups Make Debut.)

Some enterprises see the writing on the wall and are already moving in that direction. Grant Bourzikas, director of information security and business continuity for Scottrade, says today the brokerage firm asks software vendors for vulnerability testing data before it buys. "We are looking at an escalation of that process, where depending on how pervasive [the application is], we would also be doing some analysis on it."

Bourzikas says it would be tough to completely test out all apps. "It depends on the risk level and severity." He says the firm plans to use this data as leverage in its software purchasing process, too.

"We are looking at application vulnerabilities in our [own] code" today, he says. "We are also looking at apps that are outsourced to third parties. That's pretty standard.

"We are [now]looking at ways to get better control on overall third-party software" security, he says, including possibly outsourcing it to a third-party vulnerability testing service provider.

As usual, size matters. What may work for Scottrade might not work for an organization that's not as big as the trading firm. William Bell, director of security for CWIE, says he's all for vulnerability research on internally developed apps as well as third-party software, but lining up resources is the big challenge.

"Would I feel more comfortable knowing that a third-party assessment of an application that I am looking to buy has been performed? The answer is most definitely yes. Do I feel like it is my responsibility to ensure that we are deploying applications that increase the security of my organization? The answer is also yes," Bell says. "[But] when it really comes down to it, do I have the staff and resources to perform this testing? The answer is a resounding no."

And hiring consultants to do the testing for you isn't something every SMB can afford, either, he says. You have to weigh the security risk with the financial impact of paying a consultant thousands of dollars, he says.

Rich Mogull, vice president of research for Gartner, says vulnerability testing and a full secure development lifecycle is necessary not only for your internal apps, but also any external-facing apps (think Web). Gartner estimates that for every 100 employees, an organization has at least one custom application, and Mogull points out that would be very pricey if you test every app.

"Where I disagree with the guys [researchers] on the panel is the degree you have to test," he says. "As part of negotiation/sales, you should ask your vendors for information on their SDLC; ask them for any security testing results; and require that they sign statements that their product at least has been tested by security vulnerability scanners."

Even that, however, doesn't eliminate all vulnerabilities, he notes.

The pressure is on software vendors. Scottrade's Bourzikas says raising awareness among enterprises could force software vendors to thoroughly test for vulnerabilities. "Even if a small company can't afford testing, it can ask [the vendor] for it: Where are you from a security threat modeling perspective? Do you test for security? How many bug patches have you had in the last 18 months?"

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Gartner Inc.
  • Matasano Security LLC