Feeds

Report security vulns at your peril

From whistleblower to suspect ...

Reducing security risks from open source software

Has it really come to this? Researchers are now so wary of reporting security vulnerabilities that some infosec experts in academia are advising their student charges to walk away from problems.

Pascal Meunier, author of the Cassandra system, and a researcher at the Centre for Education and Research in Information and Assurance (CERIAS) at Purdue University, reckons it has become too risky to report security flaws in websites to their administrators. His opinion was formed after reporting a vulnerability in custom software on a production website discovered by one of his students.

The site was subsequently hacked, using a different vulnerability, leading police to treat him as a potential suspect. The student involved agreed to come forward, thereby diffusing the situation. But it could easily have been a different story that left Meunier with the ethical dilemma of disclosing the identity of his source under threat of putting his job at risk, because police tend to treat those reporting security holes as hackers.

A second problem is that site administrators tend to dismiss security reports without seeing evidence as holes. But producing an exploit that demonstrates a security hole could be construed as a hacking attack unless a researcher goes to the trouble of getting written authorisation.

Meunier's opinion is informed by the case of Eric McCarty, an IT worker who faces hacking charges after allegedly breaching a university's website while investigating a suspected flaw. McCarty hadn't obtained permission to look at the online application system of the University of Southern California. SecurityFocus has more on this case here.

Meunie says students in his facility ought to be able to report security problems anonymously through an approved person. However, sysadmins and the police are suspicious of such whistleblowing activity, as Muenier discovered.

The experience has led him to advise his students not to report vulnerabilities on active websites because there is "no safe way" to report a vulnerability. "If you find strange behaviors that may indicate that a website is vulnerable, don't try to confirm if it's actually vulnerable," he advises. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
Crooks fling banking Trojan at Japanese smut site fans
Wait - they're doing online banking with an unpatched Windows PC?
NIST told to grow a pair and kick NSA to the curb
Lrn2crypto, oversight panel tells US govt's algorithm bods
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.