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Facebook Announces Formal Vulnerability Disclosure Policy for Third-Party Bugs

The social media giant has also launched a new website for sharing information on WhatsApp security.

Facebook today rolled out a formal policy for disclosing vulnerabilities in third-party products and also announced the creation of a new website for providing security updates and bug disclosures related to WhatsApp.

Facebook's new Security Vulnerability Disclosure Policy formally codifies a set of practices the social media behemoth said it would follow in releasing information about any security issues its researchers might uncover in third-party products.

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Under the policy, when Facebook informs a third party about a bug, it will give that entity 21 days to let Facebook know how the issue will be mitigated. If the third party does not respond, Facebook says it reserves the right to disclose the bug publicly. The company says it will do the same thing if no fix is available after 90 days. Facebook's new policy disclosure page lists several other processes and steps it will take to ensure the third party has every opportunity to understand and fix a bug before the disclosure clock runs down.

Facebook has already been informally following many of the practices. The goal in announcing a structured policy is to "unambiguously explain" expectations, timelines, and reporting processes when security issues are discovered in third-party code and systems, Facebook said Thursday.

"From time to time, in the course of our work we come across security vulnerabilities in third-party code, including open source, closed source vendor software, or devices among other things," says Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Facebook.

In the past, Facebook researchers have found and reported multiple vulnerabilities in VPN clients, VPN servers, optical switches, virtualization software, file storage appliances, and email clients, among other types of software or devices, Gleicher says.

"This policy codifies core principles we have always strived to follow: Put users first, minimize harm, and share our findings to help the infosec community to patch issues quickly," he says.

In recent years the security industry has worked on building consensus around responsible bug disclosure practices. Though a majority of disclosures these days adhere to broadly used policies such as the one Facebook announced today, there have been instances where security researchers and vendors have released bug details before a fix for it was available.

One notable example involved a bug in a Windows crypto library that a researcher from Google's Project Zero program disclosed in June 2019 even as a fix for it was getting ready. In that case, the researcher described the disclosure as happening only after he had provided Microsoft with adequate time for fixing the issue. Google, like other tech companies, has a formally articulated bug disclosure policy that has a similar timeline as Facebook's policy,

Facebook and hundreds of other companies have tried to mitigate the risk of zero-day disclosures involving their products by implementing formal bug-bounty programs that give independent and third-party security researchers a way to look for and responsibly report bugs in their products. Facebook has so far awarded over $9.8 million in bounties to researchers from some 60 countries for responsibly reporting vulnerabilities in Facebook products and services. In 2019 alone, the company paid over $2.2 million to such independent researchers, Gleicher says.

In addition to the new disclosure policy, Facebook also has launched a new website that will regularly provide information on WhatsApp security — including newly patched bugs. According to Facebook, some one-third of the bugs reported in WhatsApp come in via its bug-bounty program, and like most bugs they are patched the same day.

"WhatsApp has disclosed CVEs via MITRE previously and we'll continue to do so," Gleicher notes. "But we also wanted to make it easy for security researchers and people using our service to have updates about and understand the security work [around WhatsApp]. We hope that anyone who views the page will get a better understanding of the security of WhatsApp."


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

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