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Google gives vendors seven-day bug disclosure deadline

Chocolate Factory appoints self judge, jury, and executioner

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Google has decided it's fair to tell the world about newly-discovered security flaws seven days after it learns about them, even if that's not enough time for vendors of vulnerable software to provide a fix.

The Chocolate Factory used its Online Security Blog to deliver this edict, writing that “We recently discovered that attackers are actively targeting a previously unknown and unpatched vulnerability in software belonging to another company.”

“We always report these cases to the affected vendor immediately, and we work closely with them to drive the issue to resolution.”

But that driving seems not to be happening at a speed Google thinks is appropriate, as the post goes on to say “we believe that more urgent action -- within 7 days -- is appropriate for critical vulnerabilities under active exploitation.”

Seven days is therefore the time Google will allow to elapse before it “will support researchers making details available so that users can take steps to protect themselves.”

The logic behind Google's unilateral hurry-up is that “each day an actively exploited vulnerability remains undisclosed to the public and unpatched, more computers will be compromised.”

It's hard to argue against that. But Google's not explained what it considers “critical vulnerabilities”. The Online Security Blog directs readers to this document at the Chromium Projects that details different levels of security-related severity. The guidelines on offer there pertain only to web browsers. Just what represents a “critical vulnerability” in a word processor or Android app is not explained.

Vulture South therefore wonders if Google has just proclaimed itself judge, jury and executioner when it comes to software flaws, inasmuch as it will decide what is a critical problem, and has set the time in which vendors must address it or face public shaming … by Google.

There's massive potential for this to blow up in Google's face: imagine if it publicises a flaw that has been imperfectly mitigated, but the outing of the problem sparks wider attempts at exploitation.

Vulture South will therefore be keeping an eye on this blog: a more nuanced response seems sorely needed and seven days seems a reasonable time to wait for the update. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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