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Security flaw marketplace lays out its wares

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An online marketplace where researchers and vendors can trade in security vulnerabilities has been created by a Swiss research lab. WSLabi said its eBay-style marketplace will create a more open and transparent market for security flaws, enabling researchers to strike a fairer bargain for their work.

The international security research exchange will operate via a portal for offering registered researchers a variety of trading options including auctioning off their work, selling to as many buyers as possible at a fixed price or selling it exclusively to one buyer.

Research will be vetted prior to auctions or sales by WSLabi, which will verify submitted findings at its research labs. Verified findings will be packaged with proof of concept code that will then be offered up for sale. The marketplace will be free to use for the first six months for both researchers and buyers in order to allow the exchange to find its feet.

Concerns have been expressed about whether security research sold through the site might end up in the hands of cybercrooks and whether flaws might be discovered via illegal methods.

WSLabi said that both researchers and buyers will have to identify themselves as part of measures it is taking to ensure that both are kosher. Researchers cannot submit security research material which comes from an illegal source or activity, it added, though how WSLabi intends to police this requirement wasn't immediately clear. Although parties to trades will be obliged to identify themselves to WSLabi they can make trades under nicknames. Personal data along with the full details of vulnerabilities will be held on a separate and secure system.

Filling the gap

The launch of WSLabi marketplace marks a further evolution in the increasing complex market for security research and vulnerability information.

Some security firms try to get an edge over their rivals by paying independent security researchers for bugs they find, defences against which are added to their security products and notification services, thereby boosting their appeal. The approach was first widely applied by iDefense but has since been taken up by other firms including Immunity and 3Com's TippingPoint division. Payments vary but tend to max out at around $10,000.

For flaw finders with the right contacts, sales to government agencies might fetch as much as $50,000 or more, depending on the vulnerability. Selling flaws direct to hackers through to underground black market in flaws offers an even greater potential (albeit illicit) reward.

Last month marked the arrival of a firm that offers security researchers a chance to profit from their work by patenting security fixes. Intellectual Weapons offers a revenue split with researchers who embark on what it admits as an ambitious strategy.

It's tempting to think that its only a matter of time before someone launches a derivatives market for security bugs or perhaps some security geek equivalent of Sporting Index. Anyone fancy going long on 0day word flaws?

But we digress.

WSLabi says there's still a gap in the market for its marketplace service, which it claims will offer researchers a more reliable route to getting a fair price for their research. It added the market for security research is largely untapped.

Herman Zampariolo, chief exec of WSLabi, said: "Recently it was reported that although researchers had analyzed a little more than 7,000 publicly disclosed vulnerabilities last year, the number of new vulnerabilities found in code could be as high as 139,362 per year. Our intention is that the marketplace facility on WSLabi will enable security researchers to get a fair price for their findings and ensure that they will no longer be forced to give them away for free or sell them to cyber-criminals." ®

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