More often than not when a security researcher discovers a bug in a piece of software, the vendor in question doesn't even have an email address or a Web page for receiving reports of vulnerabilities.
Katie Moussouris, chief policy officer at HackerOne, says providing a point of contact or mechanism for reporting bugs should be a given. "What we consider a basic no-brainer is setting up an email address or some kind of form" for vulnerability reports, Moussouris says. "But that is a huge challenge for hackers today. Just finding the right contact is not trivial," she says.
That's one obstacle Moussouris hopes will be solved with a new (and free) tool she developed for organizations that provides a simple guide for vulnerability response programs and a way to determine how they measure up with other organizations.
"The new normal, which is long overdue, is for every organization on the Internet to accept the fact that eventually someone will report a vulnerability to them, and be prepared with an easy way for security researchers to contact them," she says.
The new Vulnerability Coordination Maturity Model (VCMM), released today by HackerOne, includes an assessment tool and maps out the key elements to a vulnerability coordination program. The VCMM was in part inspired by software development lifecycle roadmaps and benchmarking tools such as the Building Security In Maturity Model (BSIMM) study and Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle (SDLC), and Threat and Vulnerability Management (TVM) Maturity Model. It's the first of its kind for organizations to measure and evolve how they handle things when a hacker reports a security bug in their software to them.
Moussouris, who led a once-reluctant Microsoft to create a bug bounty program after years of resistance by the software giant, says the VCMM also draws from her experiences with Microsoft Research's vulnerability coordination work, as well as during her tenure with Symantec's research team.
VCMM consists of five basic areas -- organizational (people, process, resources); engineering (evaluation, remediation of bugs); communications (interacting with researchers, customers, etc.); analytics (analyzing bug trends or process issues); and incentives (compensation and encouragement of researchers). Each area includes what entails a Basic, Advanced, and Expert level of that discipline.
"It's very simple" such that it should be easy for industries without much security or software experience to understand and use it, she says. "Honestly, it's meant for everybody: for organizations that are well-established in vulnerability coordination who can use it to see where there's room for improvement," and for less- or not-experienced firms, a roadmap for getting started.
One obvious category of products lacking in vulnerability disclosure knowledge and sophistication is the Internet of Things. As security researchers have set their sights on finding flaws in increasingly networked consumer products such as cars, home automation systems, and baby monitors, that gap has often been painfully obvious.
[By 2020 there will be 25 billion Internet of Things devices...all full of vulnerabilities. What can we do to solve the problem now? Don't miss the next episode of Dark Reading Radio, "Fixing IoT Security," this Wednesday, Sep. 23 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time.]
Take Rapid7's recent study of the security of Internet-enabled video baby monitors that found holes that could expose not only a family's privacy but also the security of businesses with home workers. Only one of the half-dozen baby monitor vendors alerted by Rapid7 about major security holes in their consumer devices responded: Philips Electronics.
Tod Beardsley, security research manager for Rapid7, says there are plenty of cases where researchers must interface with firms that have never experienced vulnerability disclosure before. There's often no way to find the right person--if there even is someone--to report it to. And when you reach them, it can be painful. "For companies that haven't run into it before, it's a startling event," he says.
"Some get a little angry or emotional response to our disclosures," he says.
"It's definitely the time for something like this," Beardsley says of the VCMM, which with its "clear and concise" explanation of each element and maturity phase sets the appropriate tone, he says.
Gary McGraw, CTO of Cigital and one of the creators of the BSIMM, says only a few firms in the BSIMM study so far offer bug bounties. "It's a real trend, but not hugely common," he says. Unlike the VCCM, BSIMM built a model around what organizations were already doing, so it was first and foremost a study that evolved into a model, he notes.
HackerOne, as part of VCCM, will gather data and then provide more case study-type information on real-world vulnerability coordination within companies.
The reality is that most organizations today are still working on launching the first phase of a vulnerability coordination process -- the so-called Basic level. "That first step is the a big first step: recognizing that there's going to be a problem" and starting the process, Beardsley says. "If I run into a company that's at the Basic [level], I'm delighted."
In the organizational element of the VCCM, for example, Basic level is where an organization has the executive support to receive and process bug reports from the outside. In the Advanced level, the organization has policy and process for it, and in the Expert level, there's a dedicated budget and personnel to handle vulnerability coordination.
Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio