Feeds

Microsoft: Finding flaws on our website is OK

'Hate the vuln, love the finder'

Seven Steps to Software Security

ToorCon In a first for a major company, Microsoft has publicly pledged not to sue or press charges against ethical hackers who responsibly find security flaws in its online services.

The promise, extended Saturday at the ToorCon security conference in Seattle, is a bold and significant move. While researchers are generally free to attack legally acquired software running on their own hardware, they can face severe penalties for probing websites that run on servers belonging to others. In some cases, organizations have pursued legal action against researchers who did nothing more than discover and responsibly report serious online vulnerabilities.

"This is actually really important because online services - that's our stuff," Microsoft security strategist Katie Moussouris told several hundred researchers. "The philosophy here is if someone is being nice enough to point out your fly is down, they're really doing you a favor and you should thank them rather than calling the cops and saying you're a pervert."

Moussouris said she is pushing to get a provision added to a proposed standard that's making its way through the International Organization for Standardization that would protect ethical hackers who responsibly disclose vulnerabilities in other companies' websites. "If I get my way, it'll be in there," she said.

(In a brief exchange after her talk, Moussouris told us she didn't know offhand exactly how the proposed standard was designated. We're guessing it's this one, though we can't be sure.)

The idea is to make websites safer by taking advantage of the legions of independent researchers who stumble upon security bugs. As she put it: "Don't hate the finder, hate the vulnerability. We don't actually want to discourage people who are trying to help us by being iffy about whether we're going to go after them."

As things stand, researchers frequently turn a blind eye to gaping security holes on websites for fear of suffering a fate similar to that of Eric McCarty. The prospective student at the University of Southern California found a flaw in the school's online application system that gave him access to other applicants' records. In 2006, he was charged with computer intrusion after producing proof of his finding.

"There's definitely a lot of trepidation among legitimate researchers to find flaws in public-facing web applications because you never know how [companies] are going to react," said Alex Stamos, a founding partner at iSEC Partners, a firm that provides penetration-testing services. "That hurts us because the only people finding these flaws are the bad guys."

Moussouris's remarks came as she gave a progress report on Microsoft's efforts to be more responsive to security researchers. One new initiative is a two-day course called Defend the Flag, a modified version of Capture the Flag, for its IT employees who are new to security. Microsoft is also offering assistance to companies grappling with their own security issues and giving a heads-up when it learns of vulnerabilities affecting third-party vendors.

Microsoft's security team has also worked hard to strike a balance between releasing security patches quickly and making sure the updates don't break products that customers rely on.

"We are a huge target, obviously," Moussouris said. "Some of you love that about us. We basically face a lot of issues that a lot of vendors haven't had to deal with. Not many vendors out there can break the [internet] if they mess up their patches." ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Attackers raid SWISS BANKS with DNS and malware bombs
'Retefe' trojan uses clever spin on old attacks to grant total control of bank accounts
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
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.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
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.