Feeds

eBay pulls Excel vulnerability auction

Spoilsports

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Online auction giant eBay shut down the bidding for a vulnerability in Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program on Thursday, saying that the sale of flaw research violates the site's policy against encouraging illegal activity.

The vulnerability, which could allow a malicious programmer to create an Excel file that could take control of a Windows computer when opened, appears to be real. Members of the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) are investigating the vulnerability report, a spokesperson for the software giant said Thursday night. eBay pulled the auction after Microsoft complained to the company's Trust and Safety Team, said Catherine England, spokeswoman for the online auctioneer.

"The listing was immediately reviewed and pulled from the site for violating our policy against promoting illegal activity - hacking," England said in an email to SecurityFocus. "In general, research can be sold as a product. However, if the research were to violate the law or intellectual property rights then it would not be allowed."

The online auction company "prohibits the sale of items or links to items that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity," according to its stated policy.

The move comes as the idea of selling vulnerability research has gained more traction amongst the security industry and research communities. Buying flaw information is a controversial practice, but one currently supported by at least two security companies: iDefense and 3Com's TippingPoint. Both companies have created initiatives aimed at procuring original vulnerability research from independent flaw finders.

Software makers tend to frown upon such tactics because the exposure of vulnerabilities in their product can significantly undermine trust in their product and even their stock evaluations. Microsoft typically will criticize researchers who publicly disclose flaws before giving the company adequate time, typically at least 30 days and frequently many months, to fix the problem.

The person trying to sell the alleged flaw in Excel, identified only by his eBay nickname "fearwall," laced his description of the flaw with barbs aimed at Microsoft.

"Since I was unable to find any use for this by-product of Microsoft developers, it is now available for you at the low starting price of $0.01 -a fair value estimation for any Microsoft product," the seller stated in the description of his auction. Attempts to contact the seller have so far been unsuccessful.

Turning to auctions to maximize a security researcher's profits and fairly value security research is also not a new idea. Two years ago, security expert Greg Hoglund had reserved the domain "zerobay.com" and intended to create an auction site, but worries over liability caused him to scuttle the plan a few days before the site went live, he said.

"I discussed the idea a lot with other people in the community," said Hoglund, who is now the CEO of reverse engineering firm HBGary. "Generally, people thought the idea would be the best way to sell that sort of material."

The problem with the current market for vulnerabilities is that security researchers are generally poorly paid for the amount of work that they have to invest in finding flaws, he said. Knowledgeable researchers, which might otherwise charge $100 or more an hour for their work, can spend weeks searching for security problems, Hoglund said.

"Companies have this expectation that this information should be provided to them for free," he said. "And that's not fair, because these people are highly skilled labor."

Microsoft will continue to analyze the flaw and will provide a patch, if necessary, the software giant's spokesperson said.

Copyright © 2005, SecurityFocus

This article was originally published in SecurityFocus

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Webcam hacker pervs in MASS HOME INVASION
You thought you were all alone? Nope – change your password, says ICO
You really need to do some tech support for Aunty Agnes
Free anti-virus software, expires, stops updating and p0wns the world
Meet OneRNG: a fully-open entropy generator for a paranoid age
Kiwis to seek random investors for crowd-funded randomiser
USB coding anarchy: Consider all sticks licked
Thumb drive design ruled by almighty buck
Attack reveals 81 percent of Tor users but admins call for calm
Cisco Netflow a handy tool for cheapskate attackers
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Managing SSL certificates with ease
The lack of operational efficiencies and compliance pitfalls associated with poor SSL certificate management, and how the right SSL certificate management tool can help.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.