US-CERT: A disgrace to vulnerability statistics

Several people have asked OSVDB about their thoughts on the recent US-CERT Cyber Security Bulletin 2005 Summary. Producing vulnerability statistics is trivial to do. All it takes is your favorite data set, a few queries, and off you go. Producing meaningful and useful vulnerability statistics is a real chore. I’ve long been interested in vulnerability statistics, especially related to how they are used and the damage they cause. Creating and maintaining a useful statistics project has been on the OSVDB to-do list for some time, and I personally have not followed up with some folks that had the same interest (Ejovi et al). Until I see such statistics “done right”, I will of course continue to voice my opinion at other efforts.

Some of the following comments are in the form of questions, that have what I feel to be fairly obvious answers. At some point I will no doubt flesh out some of these ideas a bit better. Until then..

Information in the US-CERT Cyber Security Bulletin is a compilation and includes information published by outside sources, so the information should not be considered the result of US-CERT analysis.

Read: Our disclaimer so you can’t blame us for shoddy stats!

Software vulnerabilities are categorized in the appropriate section reflecting the operating system on which the vulnerability was reported; however, this does not mean that the vulnerability only affects the operating system reported since this information is obtained from open-source information.

What’s the point then? If you can’t categorize this software by specific operating system or at least distinguish which are multiple vendor (with better accuracy), is it really that helpful or useful?

Vulnerabilities
* Windows Operating System
* Unix/ Linux Operating System
* Multiple Operating System

A decade later and we’re still doing the “windows vs unix” thing? I guess after the last year of hype, Mac OS X still isn’t mature enough to get it’s own category, or is it now considered “Unix”? To answer that question, yes this list lumps it in with “Unix”, and yes it is curious they don’t break it out after SANS gave it it’s own entry on their list. Not even an “other” category to cover VMS, AS/400, routers or other devices?

Now, let’s look at the very first entry on the list out of curiosity: A Windows Operating System vulnerability titled “1Two Livre d’Or Input Validation Errors Permit Cross-Site Scripting”. This issue can be referenced by CVE 2005-1644, SecurityTracker 1013971, Bugtraq ID or OSVDB 16717. The CERT bulletin labels this issue “High Risk” which is baffling to say the least. A cross-site scripting issue in the error output of a very low distribution guestbook is high risk? What do they label a remote code execution vulnerability in windows? Looking at the first MSIE vuln on the list, it too is rated as “high risk”. Great, way to completely invalidate your entire risk rating.

OK, on to the fun part.. the statistics! Unfortunately, the bulletin is very lacking on wording, explanation, details or additional disclaimers. We get two very brief paragraphs, and the list of vulnerabilities that link to their summary entries. Very unfortunate. No, let me do one better. US-CERT, you are a disgrace to vulnerability databases. I can’t fathom why you even bothered to create this list, and why anyone in their right mind would actually use, reference or quote this trash. The only ‘statistics’ provided by this bulletin:

This bulletin provides a year-end summary of software vulnerabilities that were identified between January 2005 and December 2005. The information is presented only as a index with links to the US-CERT Cyber Security Bulletin the information was published in. There were 5198 reported vulnerabilities: 812 Windows operating system vulnerabilities; 2328 Unix/Linux operating vulnerabilities; and 2058 Multiple operating system vulnerabilities.

The simple truth is that 99.99% of the people reading this document will see the first two paragraphs and move on. They will not read every single entry on that page. That means they walk away with the idea that Unix/Linux is roughly 3x more vulnerable than Windows, when it simply is not the case. While scrolling down, I ran across a section of the Unix/Linux vulnerability list that jumped out at me:

# ImageMagick Photoshop Document Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Photoshop Document Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Photoshop Document Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Photoshop Document Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Photoshop Document Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Remote EXIF Parsing Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Remote EXIF Parsing Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Remote EXIF Parsing Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# ImageMagick Remote EXIF Parsing Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification (Updated)
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification (Updated)
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification (Updated)
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification (Updated)
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification (Updated)
# Info-ZIP UnZip File Permission Modification (Updated)
# Info-ZIP Zip Remote Recursive Directory Compression Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# Info-ZIP Zip Remote Recursive Directory Compression Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# Info-ZIP Zip Remote Recursive Directory Compression Buffer Overflow (Updated)
# Info-ZIP Zip Remote Recursive Directory Compression Buffer Overflow (Updated)

So the list includes the same entries over and over because they are [updated]. The quoted part above represents four vulnerabilities but appears to have been responsible for twenty entries instead. The PCRE overflow issue gets twelve entries on the CERT list. Why is the Unix/Linux section full of this type of screw up, yet magically the Windows section contains very few? Could it be that the Unix/Linux vendors actually respond to every issue in a more timely fashion? Or is US-CERT intentionally trying to harm the reputation of Unix/Linux? What, don’t like those two conclusions? TOUGH, that is what happens when you release such shoddy ‘research’ or ‘statistics’ (used very lightly).

Fortunately for me, someone at Slashdot noticed the same thing and did some calculations based on removing the [updated] entries; Windows drops from 813 to 671, Unix/Linux drops from 2328 to 891, and Multiple drops from 2057 to 1512. This gives us a total of 3074 vulnerabilities reported (by US-CERT standards), not 5198. With a margin for error so large, how can anyone take them seriously? More to the point, how can the mainstream media journalists over at the Washington Post blog about this, but not challenge the statistics?

A decade later, and the security community still lacks any meaningful statistics for vulnerabilities. Why can’t these outfits with commercial or federal funding actually do a good job and produce solid data that helps instead of confuses and misleads?!

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