Re: Towards a responsible vulnerability process

From: Kirk Corey (kirk.corey@NEXIQ.COM)
Date: 11/04/01

Message-ID:  <000001c16554$7bc6f820$>
Date:         Sun, 4 Nov 2001 11:16:45 -0600
From: Kirk Corey <kirk.corey@NEXIQ.COM>
Subject:      Re: Towards a responsible vulnerability process

In his article, Scott Culp makes the following statement: "Providing a
recipe for exploiting a vulnerability doesn't aid administrators in
protecting their networks." This statement, and some of the conclusions
based upon it, are incorrect.

When a vulnerability is announced, a system administrator may ask the
following questions:

1. Is my system vulnerable? (If it ain't broke....)
2. If so, should I attempt a workaround?
3. If so, and I configure a workaround, has the workaround now indeed
protected my system against the vulnerability? Or did I make a mistake
somewhere, or misunderstand some part of the advisory, or (fill in the
4. Or should I apply the patch?
5. If so, and I do, has the application of the patch protected the system
against the vulnerability? Or is there perhaps something unique to my
configuration that causes the application of the patch to fail without
warning, or to succeed in application, but still fail to protect me against
the vulnerability? (Perhaps I need the workaround after all.)

Questions 1, 3, and 5 will often be answered to a large extent by the
vendor's and/or researcher's initial announcement. However, they can only
be answered definitively and conclusively by actually launching the
exploit, in all known variants, against the system in question.* If I am
unable to do this, because the exploit is not released, I may be deprived
of a tool that I need in order to assure the protection of my system.


If what's wanted is to improve the current situation, by all means, let's
try-- but let's start with correct and accurate premises.

My $.02,

Kirk Corey
Director, Information Technology
NEXIQ Technologies, Inc.

* Yes, this is sometimes a risky manner of testing, but that judgment
belongs to the sysadmin, not the vendor, and not the security community as
a whole, and the risk varies not only according to the exploit itself, but
also to the role of the system under attack (e.g., low risk for
non-production systems).

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