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Vulnerabilities / Threats

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Online Auction for Vulnerabilities Mulls Shutdown

WabiSabiLabi is considering closing the online marketplace for security vulnerabilities as it focuses on new line of unified threat management (UTM) appliances

WabiSabiLabi, the controversial eBay-style online marketplace for buying and selling zero-day vulnerabilities, could soon shutter its auction site as it concentrates on a new line of security appliances the company helped build.

Roberto Preatoni, strategic director for the Switzerland-based WSLabi, says the company is focusing on its new OneShield unified threat management appliances, which it will sell with a twist: It will give security researchers who contribute zero-day vulnerabilities to WSLabi a percentage of the sales of zero-day update service contracts for the appliances.

"The more service contracts for zero-day updates subscribed by OneShield UTM customers, the more money will end up in the hands of those researchers who are contributing with their research to our vulnerability database," Preatoni says.

The new business model could totally replace WSLabi's online vulnerability marketplace business. "We didn't decide yet -- it's just an option, as we are still evaluating the pros and the cons," Preatoni says, noting that the online auction model didn't go as planned for WSLabi. "We had a lot of researchers submitting, but very little buyers."

Although the company doesn't disclose sales data, the site did get more than 150 vulnerabilities since it launched in July of last year, he says.

Security experts say it's no surprise that WSLabi's online auction model failed. "My view is the site ended up attracting researchers and not customers," says HD Moore, creator of Metasploit and director of security research for BreakingPoint Systems. "Researchers care about new bugs so they can write their own exploits -- customers just care about exploits for the most part."

Moore says part of the problem with the model is that by marketing an "unknown vulnerability," it becomes a target for other researchers and risks being rediscovered and losing its original value.

"The place where 'exploits for sale' can shine is not in zero-day vulnerability information. The majority of the target market could not write their own exploit even if they had full information about the flaw," Moore says. "Instead, researchers should market reliable, full-featured, and easy-to-use exploits. If the exploit code abuses an unknown flaw, great, it's worth a little more. But to be really valuable, the exploit has to be functional and a step above the normal proof-of-concept scripts we see scattered around the Internet."

David Aitel, founder and CTO of Immunity, says his company would have been a prime customer of the site, but it never purchased any vulnerabilities from WSLabi. "It's hard to build momentum on the kind of vulnerabilities they were selling," he says.

WabiSabiLabi's Preatoni last year was invited to Microsoft's Blue Hat summit, where he told Microsoft security staffers and other security experts that the buyers on the site were security companies, and its sellers, security companies or indie researchers. At the time, Preatoni said the most frequent visitors to the online site were Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Veritas, Symantec, F-Secure, the U.S. Army, Oracle, VeriSign, and SAP -- in that order.

WSLabi gets a 10 percent cut from each sale transacted on the site, where zero-day bugs and related proof-of-concept code sold for anywhere from a few hundred euros to 5,000 euros.

The company's new UTM appliance -- which it co-developed with Delemont Technology and the Eurotech Group -- includes firewall, IDS, antivirus, antispam, content filtering, and VPN features.

"The UTM appliances are already updated -- and getting updated daily -- with the latest public vulnerability signatures, but the customer has the right to subscribe to a special zero-day vulnerability update service," Preatoni says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message 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


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