Zero Day Initiative: One Year After Throwing Down The Disclosure Gauntlet

Vulnerabilities reported mostly in big-name software vendors' products, and SCADA zero-day flaws on the rise, according to ZDI's annual report

Most of the zero-day vulnerabilities reported this year were in products from 10 of the biggest names in software.

Some 81 percent of the published and upcoming zero-day advisories from HP TippingPoint DVLabs' Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) this year were in Adobe, Apple, EMC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, RealNetworks, and Symantec products. That's an increase of nearly 20 percent over last year, due, in part, to ZDI's year-old disclosure policy that placed a deadline on vendors' patches for bugs that ZDI reported to them. "We dropped 29 advisories as 0-day, from vendors like Cisco, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and smaller companies as well," says Derek Brown, a member of HP TippingPoint's Security Research Group. But Brown says ZDI's 180-day deadline has helped, not hurt, software security.

"Because there is this looming deadline out there," vendors are doing a better job at fixing zero-day flaws, Brown says. "Before, it was not uncommon to deliver a bug report to a vendor, and a year would go by before a patch cycle was out there.

"Over the past year ... [more] vendors are working to get these patches out [expeditiously]," he says. "We have had a really good response from all vendors, and they have demonstrated they are willing to make the effort to get stuff into the patch cycle."

HD Moore, chief security officer at Rapid7 and chief architect of Metasploit, says ZDI's report is "validation" for policies that draw a line in the sand for vendors to fix their zero-day vulnerabilities. "My takeaway is that a large company has been able to publish details on unpatched bugs and the world didn't end," Moore says.

[With so many applications and vulnerabilities, which patches do you deploy first? See A Security Pro's Guide To Patch Management .]

ZDI late last year launched a more aggressive six-month time frame from when it reports a bug to a vendor until it goes public with it. ZDI, which historically had worked with vendors in not disclosing any bugs it finds until they patch them, said the change was necessary because some vendors were getting a little too comfortable with that open-ended agreement: ZDI had vulnerability bulletins that were as old as three years.

Google previously had instituted a controversial 60-day deadline for vendors to fix vulnerabilities it finds in their products before going public, and Rapid7, a deadline of 15 days. If a vendor hasn't patched within that period, then Rapid7 reports the bug to US-CERT, which gives vendors 45 days to fix the bugs before going public with them. Microsoft has stood fast in its refusal to place a timetable on when it issues patches for reported bugs because it contends that there's no one-size-fits-all time frame for fixing bugs.

Meanwhile, ZDI also saw a big jump in industrial control/SCADA zero-day vulnerabilities: It published six of them, including ones in GE, Honeywell, and InduSoft products. "This is the first year we've seen a lot of submissions in SCADA from our researchers," ZDI's Brown says. "We're surprised at the rise in SCADA bugs."

One of the biggest problems with SCADA security today -- and, ultimately, critical infrastructure -- is that customers of these products don't speak up to their vendors, security experts say.

"In my experience, SCADA-using industries and individual organizations don't put enough pressure on vendors. End users are starting to consider device security as a part of their device implementation process; however, when issues our found, getting a fix from the vendor can be a real problem," says Tom Parker, chief technology officer at FusionX. "Organizations should be looking to have security-defect-related language in their procurement agreements so that the vendor's customers have a contractual precedent to get things fixed when issues are found."

Eric Byres, CTO and co-founder of Tofino Industrial Security, says users are mostly "silent" about SCADA security. "...What has me worried the most is not hearing from the end users. They seem to be silent. I hear lots of yelling from the security researcher community, but the users of PLCs have said nothing. They don’t seem to be demanding security in their RFPs, and they haven’t called out to their suppliers," Byres wrote in a blog post today. "The engineering and design teams for any vendor can only spend time on the features that customers demand. Everything else is a 'nice-to-have.'"

If users of SCADA and industrial control systems don't step up, then the vulnerabilities will continue to roll in, expert say. "Until they make security part of their buying decisions, then we can’t expect secure control system products," Byres says.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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