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Microsoft bug hunters kicked 0day own goal

Redmond no longer tells world about bugs until it checks own exposure

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AusCERT A team of Microsoft researchers had kicked an own goal by alerting a third party to a zero day vulnerability that they were unaware also affected Redmond.

The gaffe in the early days of the Microsoft Vulnerability Research (MSVR) team didn't result in Redmond getting owned, but prompted the creation of a rule in the department that all vulnerabilities sent out to third parties be checked for effectiveness against Microsoft's own kit.

Microsoft Microsoft senior security program manager David Sideman described the scenario which was manipulated to protect the researchers involved.

"There's this problem that occurs in payment networks where you can report two transactions and get paid multiple times. They reported it to a couple of payment networks but what they didn't report it to was Microsofts own payment network through Bing ... this is what MSVR was designed to prevent," Sideman said at the AusCERT conference in Brisbane yesterday.

"Before we report a bug we see if it affects Microsoft -- we won't necessarily hold the vulnerability report until we fix the issue but we want to know of we were affected party because we want to coordinate a simultaneous release."

Examples for this would include bugs in shared or similar technology such as SSL or web browser bugs.

The MSVR centre was created in 2008 allow Microsoft security researchers to safely report bugs and vulnerabilities they found in third-party software in a bid to shore up the security ecosystem of the wider internet and by extension, the company's infrastructure.

Each bug discovered by Microsoft engineers scattered through various departments was sent to the team who then began the often arduous process of finding a contact to report the bug.

This was difficult because many organisations did not list security contacts on their websites and some did not respond to Redmond's alerts.

Sideman described entering "sales purgatory" where kind-hearted techies with a free bug report in hand became stuck in a treacherous conversation loop with sales people who could not take receipt of the vulnerability from non-customers.

The longest hunt to find developers of vulnerable software lasted years, Sideman said at the AusCERT security conference in Australia ydgterday, but most were solved through Microsoft's network of contacts who could usually track down someone to help.

Microsoft can however force developers into action by threatening to kill a vulnerable app found in its store if nothing was done.

In keeping to its advocacy for responsible disclosure, the MSVR shop reserved the right to drop zero day when vulnerabilities were under active attack but has yet to do so.

"We know how long [patching] should take, so we know when you (developers) are dragging your feet or when you're responding properly," Sideman said.

He recommended businesses open their own versions of MSVR because it will help boost morale among security staffers and bug hunters, and improve the security posture of the enterprise and the wider internet.

Those programs should funnel all bug reports from staff to various third parties, but allow them to claim bug bounties, and should curate a hall of fame so that researchers could be recognised for their work. ®

Darren Pauli travelled to AusCERT as a guest of Dell.

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