Mail List Archives 101 (or why SF hates VDBs)

Running a mail list archive is a straight forward task. Collect, organize and make mail list posts available via the web. You can see such archives at seclists.org or the Neohapsis arhive. Most folks that use archives like this have their favorites for various reasons. Speed, the lists they archive, or the organization usually. Most archives use a system where the URL to the post is logical and somewhat informative. Looking at the URL to the latest Bugtraq post archived at Neohapsis:
http://archives.neohapsis.com/archives/bugtraq/2005-10/0259.html
. We see the mail list name, the year and month, and a unique number for the post. Bugtraq, 2005, October, 259th post. Simple and easy!

SecurityFocus maintains an archive of the mail lists they run. Until a couple months ago, they used a scheme that wasn’t very informative. A sample URL http://www.securityfocus.com/archive/1/245152 shows it doesn’t help us discern anything about the post. Annoying, but oh well, most people could live with it. A month or two ago, SecurityFocus decided to revamp their system which would also impact their entire archive. They made assurances that the changes would be transparent and that old URLs would work. As I predicted to one SF employee, it didn’t work out so smooth, and many of the old URLs did not translate properly. At first he doubted me, then asked for examples. After providing half a dozen he saw that it wasn’t a fluke and that something had gone wrong. Unfortunately, whoever he shared that information with didn’t act on it. What is more annoying, and more damning, is that SF implemented a new scheme that is just as bad as the old one. Look at an example of their new scheme:
http://www.securityfocus.com/archive/1/414100/30/0/threaded
. This URL doesn’t tell us anything about the mail list or post either.

Why does this matter? There are hundreds of Nessus plugins that reference these old URLs, and in some cases only reference mail list posts, via the SecurityFocus archive. Clicking these now leads to .. no information. There are also countless CVE entries that reference the old URL scheme. If you want to see the original point of disclosure, you are forced to visit another database (that competes with SecurityFocus) such as ISS X-Force or OSVDB to see a valid link, as they choose to reference mail list archives that are more friendly to users.

In short, if you maintain a security product or database, please do not reference SecurityFocus or any other archive that uses an obscured scheme, or has intentions of changing their scheme.

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