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Microsoft charts security vuln MAPP

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Microsoft has announced plans to share additional details about security vulnerabilities in its products in an attempt to prevent attackers from exploiting them before patches are released to its customers.

Under one initiative dubbed the Microsoft Active Protections Program (MAPP), Redmond will provide security providers with detailed information about upcoming updates. The disclosures will include instructions on how to reproduce and exploit the vulnerabilities, and are designed to help partners craft signatures for antivirus and intrusion prevention systems.

Microsoft also unveiled a new exploitability index, which will help customers gauge the likelihood of a vulnerability actually harming them. The idea is to help customers decide which patches should be installed right away and which ones can be applied later. It will be included with Microsoft's monthly security bulletin release, which comes out the second Tuesday of each month. Both MAPP and the exploitability index will debut in October.

After years spent as the poster child for lax security practices, Microsoft began getting serious about security about six years ago. The new disclosure programs are designed to respond to a changing threat landscape, in which exploits spread quicker. Most companies - and Apple is as good an example as any - are reluctant to discuss details about vulnerabilities in their products beyond a canned release. Some argue that providing sensitive information only makes it easier for black hat hackers to exploit the weaknesses. Microsoft seems to recognize that the bad guys already have plenty of insight into the vulnerabilities and the only way to level the field is to make sure the good guys have them as well.

MAPP is only open to companies that offer a commercial product to Microsoft customers against network- or host-based attacks. Authors of attack kits are not eligible. Companies interested in participating in MAPP will have to enroll by emailing mapp@microsoft.com. The restrictions on who gets the information makes sense, given the potential for abuse should it fall into the wrong hands.

The exploitability index will contain labels assigned to each vulnerability, including "consistent exploit code likely," "inconsistent exploit code likely" and "functioning exploit code unlikely," which would translate into higher, medium and lower priority. ®

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