After John Cartwright abruptly announced the closure of the Full Disclosure mail list, there was a lot of speculation as to why. I mailed John Cartwright the day after and asked some general questions. In so many words he indicated it was essentially the emotional wear and tear of running the list. While he did not name anyone specifically, the two biggest names being speculated were ‘NetDev’ due to years of being a headache, and the more recent thread started by Nicholas Lemonias. Through other channels, not via Cartwright, I obtained a copy of a legal threat made against at least one hosting provider for having copies of the mails he sent. This mail was no doubt sent to Cartwright among others. As such, I believe this is the “straw that broke the camels back” so to speak. A copy of that mail can be found at the bottom of this post and it should be a stark lesson that disclosure mail list admins are not only facing threats from vendors trying to stifle research, but now security researchers. This includes researchers who openly post to a list, have a full discussion about the issue, desperately attempt to defend their research, and then change their mind and want to erase it all from public record.
As I previously noted, relying on Twitter and Pastebin dumps are not a reliable alternative to a mail list. Others agree with me including Gordon Lyon, the maintainer of seclists.org and author of Nmap. He has launched a replacement Full Disclosure list to pick up the torch. Note that if you were previously subscribed, the list users were not transferred. You will need to subscribe to the new list if you want to continue participating. The new list will be lightly moderated by a small team of volunteers. The community owes great thanks to both John and now Gordon for their service in helping to ensure that researchers have an outlet to disclose. Remember, it is a mail list on the surface; behind the scenes, they deal with an incredible number of trolls, headache, and legal threats. Until you run a list or service like this, you won’t know how emotionally draining it is.
Note: The following mail was voluntarily shared with me and I was granted permission to publish it by a receiving party. It is entirely within my legal right to post this mail.
From: Nicholas Lemonias. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Tue, Mar 18, 2014 at 9:11 PM
Subject: Abuse from $ISP hosts
I am writing you to launch an official complaint relating to Data
Protection Directives / and Data Protection Act (UK).
Therefore my request relates to the retention of personal and confidential
information by websites hosted by Secunia.
These same information are also shared by UK local and governmental
authorities and financial institutions, and thus there are growing
concerns of misuse of such information.
Consequently we would like to request that you please delete ALL records
containing our personal information (names, emails, etc..) in whole, from
your hosted websites (seclists.org) and that distribution of our
information is ceased . We have mistakenly posted to the site, and however
reserve the creation rights to that thread, and also reserve the right to
have all personal information deleted, and ceased from any electronic
dissemination, use either partially or in full.
I hope that the issue is resolved urgently without the involvement of local
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thanks in advance,
Update 7:30P EST: Andrew Wallace (aka NetDev) has released a brief statement regarding Full Disclosure. Further, Nicholas Lemonias has threatened me in various ways in a set of emails, all public now.
This morning I woke to the news that the Full-Disclosure mail list was closing its doors. Assuming this is not a hoax (dangerously close to April 1st) and not spoofed mail that somehow got through, there seems to be perspective missing on the importance of this event. Via Facebook posts and Twitter I see casual disappointment, insults that the list was low signal to noise, and that many had stopped reading it a while back. I don’t begrudge the last comment one bit. The list has certainly had its share of noise, but that is the price we pay as a community and industry for having a better source for vulnerability disclosure. Speaking to the point of mail lists specifically, there were three lists that facilitated this: Bugtraq, Full-Disclosure, and Open Source Security (OSS). Bugtraq has been around the longest and is the only alternative to Full-Disclosure really (remember that VulnWatch didn’t last, and was ultimately low traffic). OSS is a list that caters to open source software and does not traffic in commercial software. A majority of the posts come from open source vendors (e.g. Linux distributions), the software’s maintainer, etc. It is used as much for disclosure as coordination between vendors and getting a CVE assigned.
One of the first things that should be said is a sincere “thank you” to John Cartwright for running the list so long. For those of you who have not moderated a list, especially a high-traffic list, it is no picnic. The amount of spam alone makes list moderation a pain in the ass. Add to that the fake exploits, discussions that devolve into insults, and topics that are on the fringe of the list’s purpose. Trying to sort out which should be allowed becomes more difficult than you would think. More importantly, he has done it in a timely manner for so long. Read the bold part again, because that is absolutely critical here. When vulnerability information goes out, it is important that it goes out to everyone equally. Many mails sent to Bugtraq and Full-Disclosure are also sent to other parties at the same time. For example, every day we get up to a dozen mails to the OSVDB Moderators with new vulnerability information, and those lists and other sources (e.g. Exploit-DB, OffSec, 1337day) are in the CC. If you use one or a few of those places as your primary source for vulnerability intelligence, you want that information as fast as anyone else. A mail sent on Friday afternoon may hit just one of them, before appearing two days later on the rest. This is due to the sites being run with varying frequency, work schedules, and dedication. Cartwright’s quick moderation made sure those mails went out quickly, often at all hours of the day and over weekends.
While many vulnerability disclosers will send to multiple sources, you cannot assume that every disclosure will hit every source. Some of these sites specialize in a type of vulnerability (e.g. web-based), while some accept most but ignore a subset (e.g. some of the more academic disclosures). Further, not every discloser sends to all these sources. Many will send to a single mail list (e.g. Bugtraq or FD), or to both of them. This is where the problem arises. For many of the people still posting to the two big disclosure lists, they are losing out on the list that was basically guaranteed to post their work. Make no mistake, that isn’t the case for both lists.
This goes back to why Full-Disclosure was created in the first place (July 11, 2002). This was days before Symantec announced they were acquiring SecurityFocus (July 17, 2002). That was not a coincidence. While I can’t put a finger on when BugTraq changed for the worse exactly, I can assure you it has. Back in 2003, security researchers were noticing curious delays in their information being posted. One company challenged SecurityFocus/Bugtraq publicly, forcing them to defend themselves.
“The problem with SecurityFocus is not that they moderate the lists, but the fact that they deliberately delay and partially censor the information,” said Thomas Kristensen, CTO of Secunia, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Since they were acquired by Symantec they changed their policy regarding BugTraq. Before they used to post everything to everybody at the same time. Now they protect the interests of Symantec, delay information and inform their customers in advance.” Wong says there is no truth to these accusations. “The early warnings that our DeepSight customers get come from places like BugTraq and events and incidents that we monitor,” Wong said. “We dont give those alerts [from BugTraq] to our customers any sooner than anyone else gets them.”
Unfortunately for our community, Mr. Wong is absolutely incorrect. I have witnessed this behavior first hand several times over the years, as have others. From a series of mails in 2006:
* mudge (mudge @ uidzero org) [060120 20:04]:
Actually, this advisory is missing some important information. bugtraq engaged in this prior to the “buy out”. Security Focus engaged in this practice as well where there were some advisories that would go out only to the Security Focus paid private list and not be forwarded to the public list to which they were posted.
On Fri, 20 Jan 2006, H D Moore wrote:
FWIW, I have noticed that a few of my own BT posts will not reach my mailbox until they have already been added to the securityfocus.com BID database. It could be my subscriber position in the delivery queue, but it does seem suspicious sometimes. Could just be paranoia, but the list behavior/delivery delays definitely contribute to it.
In each case, moderators of Bugtraq vehemently denied the allegations. In one case, Al Huger (with Symantec at the time) reminded everyone that the combined lists of SecurityFocus were delivering over 7 million mails a day. That alone can cause issues in delivery of course. On the other hand, Symantec surely has the resources to ensure they run a set of mail servers that can churn out mail in such volume to ensure prompt delivery. Jump to more recently and you can still see incredible delay that has nothing to do with delivery issues. For example, RBS posted an advisory simultaneously to both Bugtraq and Full-Disclosure. Notice that the mail was posted on Sep 10 for Full-Disclosure and Sep 19 for Bugtraq. A nine day delay in moderating vulnerability information is not acceptable in today’s landscape of threats and bad actors. Regardless of intent, such delays simply don’t cut it.
In addition to the Bugtraq moderators having such delays, they will sometimes reject a post for trivial reasons such as “using a real IP address” in an example (one time using the vendor’s IP, another time using a public IP I control). They rejected those posts, while frequently allowing “target.com” in disclosures which is a real company.
With the death of Full-Disclosure, Bugtraq is now our primary source of vulnerability disclosure in the scope of mail lists, and only source for vulnerabilities in commercial software (out of scope for OSS). To those who argue that people “use mail a lot less now”, I suggest you look at the volume of Bugtraq, Full-Disclosure, and OSS. That is a considerable amount of disclosures made through that mechanism. Another mindset is that disclosing vulnerabilities can be done with a Tweet using a hash tag and a link to pastebin or other hosting site. To this I can quickly say that you have never run a VDB (and try finding a full set of your original l0pht or @stake advisories, many have largely vanished). Pastebin dumps are routinely removed. Researcher blogs, even hosted on free services such as WordPress and Blogger, disappear routinely. Worse, vendors that host advisories in their own products will sometimes remove their own historical advisories. The “Tweet + link” method simply does not cut it unless you want vulnerability provenance to vanish in large amounts. It is bad enough that VDBs have to rely on the Internet Archive so often (speaking of, donate to them!), but forcing us to set up a system to mirror all original disclosures is a burden. Last, for those who argue that nothing good is posted to Full-Disclosure, Lucian Constantin points out a couple good examples to counter the argument in his article on the list closing.
Instead, mail lists provide an open distributed method for releasing information. As you can see, these lists are typically mirrored on multiple sites as well as personal collections of incoming email. It is considerably easier and safer to use such a method for vulnerability disclosures going forward. In my eyes, and the eyes of others that truly appreciate what Full-Disclosure has done, the loss of that list is devastating in the short term. Not only will it introduce a small amount of bias in vulnerability aggregation, it will take time to recover. Even if someone else picks up the torch under the same name, or starts a new list to replace it, it will take time for people to transition to the new list.
To conclude, I would also ask that John Cartwright practice full disclosure himself. Shuttering the list is one thing, but blaming the action on an unnamed person with no real details isn’t what the spirit of the list is about. Give us details in a concise and factual manner, so that the industry can better understand what you are facing and what they may be getting into should they opt to run such a list.
On February 26, Secunia released their annual vulnerability report (link to report PDF) summarizing the computer security vulnerabilities they had cataloged over the 2013 calendar year. For those not familiar with their vulnerability database (VDB), we consider them a ‘specialty’ VDB rather than a ‘comprehensive’ VDB (e.g. OSVDB, X-Force). They may disagree on that point, but it is a simple matter of numbers that leads us to designate them as such. That also tends to explain why some of our conclusions and numbers are considerably different and complete than theirs.
In past years this type of blog post would not need a disclaimer, but it does now. OSVDB, while the website is mostly open to the public, is also the foundation of the VulnDB offering from our commercial partner and sponsor Risk Based Security (RBS). As such, we are now a direct competitor to Secunia, so any criticism leveled at them or their report may be biased. On the other hand, many people know that I am consistently critical of just about any vulnerability statistics published. Poor vulnerability statistics have plagued our industry for a long time. So much so that Steven Christey from CVE and I gave a presentation last year at the BlackHat briefings in Las Vegas on the topic.
One of the most important messages and take-aways from that talk is that all vulnerability statistics should be disclaimed and explained in advance. That means that a vulnerability report should start out by explaining where the data came from, applicable definitions, and the methodology of generating the statistics. This puts the subsequent statistics in context to better explain and disclaim them, as a level of bias enters any set of vulnerability statistics. Rather than follow the Secunia report in the order they publish them, I feel it is important to skip to the very end first. For that is where they finally explain their methodology to some degree, which is absolutely critical in understanding how their statistics were derived.
On page 16 (out of 20) of the report, in the Appendix “Secunia Vulnerability Tracking Process”, Secunia qualifies their methodology for counting vulnerabilities.
A vulnerability count is added to each Secunia Advisory to indicate the number of vulnerabilities covered by the Secunia Advisory. Using this count for statistical purposes is more accurate than counting CVE identifiers. Using vulnerability counts is, however, also not ideal as this is assigned per advisory. This means that one advisory may cover multiple products, but multiple advisories may also cover the same vulnerabilities in the same code-base shared across different programs and even different vendors.
First, the ‘vulnerability count’ referenced is not part of a public Secunia advisory, so their results cannot be realistically duplicated. The next few lines are important, as they invalidate the Secunia data set for making any type of real conclusion on the state of vulnerabilities. Not only can one advisory cover multiple products, multiple advisories can cover the same single vulnerability, just across different major versions. This high rate of duplicates and lack of unique identifiers make the data set too convoluted for meaningful statistics.
CVE has become a de facto industry standard used to uniquely identify vulnerabilities which have achieved wide acceptance in the security industry.
This is interesting to us because Secunia is not fully mapped to CVE historically. Meaning, there are thousands of vulnerabilities that CVE has cataloged, that Secunia has not included. CVE is a de facto industry standard, but also a drastically incomplete one. At the bare minimum, Secunia should have a 100% mapping to them and they do not. This further calls into question any statistics generated off this data set, when they knowingly ignore such a large number of vulnerabilities.
From remote describes other vulnerabilities where the attacker is not required to have access to the system or a local network in order to exploit the vulnerability. This category covers services that are acceptable to be exposed and reachable to the Internet (e.g. HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP). It also covers client applications used on the Internet and certain vulnerabilities where it is reasonable to assume that a security conscious user can be tricked into performing certain actions.
Classification for the location of vulnerability exploitation is important as this heavily factors into criticality; either via common usage, or through scoring systems such as CVSS. In their methodology, we see that Secunia does not make a distinction between ‘remote’ and ‘context-dependent’ (or ‘user-assisted’ by some). This means that the need for user interaction is not factored into an issue and ultimately, scoring and statistics become based on network, local (adjacent) network, or local vectors.
Secunia further breaks down their classification in the appendix under “Secunia Vulnerability Criticality Classification“. However, it is important to note that their breakdown does not really jibe with any other scoring system. Looking past the flaw of using the word ‘critical’ in all five classifications, the distinction between ‘Extremely Critical’ and ‘Highly Critical’ is minor; it appears to be solely based on if Secunia is aware of exploit code existing for that issue based on their descriptions. This mindset is straight out of the mid 90s in regards to threat modeling. In today’s landscape, if details are available about a vulnerability then it is a given that a skilled attacker can either write or purchase a vulnerability for the issue within a few days, for a majority of disclosed issues. In many cases, even when details aren’t public but a patch is, that is enough to reliably reverse it and leverage it for working exploit code in a short amount of time. Finally, both of these designations still do not abstract on if user interaction is required. In each case, it may or may not be. In reality, I imagine that the difference between ‘Extremely’ and ‘Highly’ is supposed to be based on if exploits are happening in the wild at time of disclosure (i.e. zero day).
Now that we have determined their statistics cannot be reproduced, use a flawed methodology, and are based on drastically incomplete data, let’s examine their conclusions anyway!
The blog announcing the report is titled “1,208 vulnerabilities in the 50 most popular programs – 76% from third-party programs” and immediately calls into question their perspective. Reading down a bit, we find out what they mean by “third-party programs”:
“And the findings in the Secunia Vulnerability Review 2014 support that, once again, the biggest vulnerability threat to corporate and private security comes from third-party – i.e. non-Microsoft – programs.”
Unfortunately, this is not the definition of a third-party program by most in our industry. On a higher more general level, a “third-party software component” is a “is a reusable software component developed to be either freely distributed or sold by an entity other than the original vendor of the development platform” (Wikipedia). In the world of VDBs, we frequently refer to a third-party component a ‘library‘ that is integrated into a bigger package. For example, Adobe Reader 10 which is found on many desktop computers is actually built on Adobe’s own code, but also as many as 212 other pieces of software. The notion that “non-Microsoft” software is “third-party” is very weird for lack of better words, and shows the mindset and perspective of Secunia. This completely discounts users of Apple, Linux, VMs (e.g. Oracle, VMware, Citrix), and mobile devices among others. Such a Microsoft-centric report should clearly be labeled as such, not as a general vulnerability report.
In the Top 50 programs, a total of 1,208 vulnerabilities were discovered in 2013. Third-party programs were responsible for 76% of those vulnerabilities, although these programs only account for 34% of the 50 most popular programs on private PCs. The share of Microsoft programs (including the Windows 7 operating system) in the Top 50 is a prominent 33 products – 66%. Even so, Microsoft programs are only responsible for 24% of the vulnerabilities in the Top 50 programs in 2013.
This is aiming for the most convoluted summary award apparently. I really can’t begin to describe how poorly this comes across. If you want to know the ‘Top 50 programs’, you have to read down to page 18 of the PDF and then resolve a lot of questions, some of which will be touched on below. When you read the list, and see that several ‘Microsoft’ programs actually had 0 vulnerabilities, it will call into question the “prominent 33 products” and show how the 66% is incorrectly weighted.
“However, another very important security factor is how easy it is to update Microsoft programs compared to third-party programs.” — Secunia CTO, Morten R. Stengaard.
When debunking vulnerability statistics, I tend to focus on the actual numbers. This is a case where I simply have to branch out and question how a ‘CTO’ could make this absurd statement. In one sentence, he implies that updating Microsoft is easy, while third-party programs (i.e. non-Microsoft programs per their definition) are not. Apparently Mr. Stengaard does not use Oracle Java, Adobe Flash player, Adobe Air, Adobe Reader, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, Google Chrome, Opera, or a wide range of other non-Microsoft desktop software, all of which have the same one-click patching/upgrade ability. Either Mr. Stengaard is not qualified to speak on this topic, or he is being extremely disingenuous in his characterization of non-Microsoft products to suit the needs of supporting this report and patch management business model. If he means that patching Windows is easier on an enterprise scale (e.g. via SCCM or WSUS), then that is frequently true, but such qualifications should be clear.
This is a case where using a valid and accepted definition of ‘third-party programs’ (e.g. a computing library) would make this quote more reasonable. Trying to upgrade ffmpeg, libav, or WebKit in the context of the programs that rely on them as libraries is not something that can be done by the average user. The problem is further compounded when portions of desktop software are used as a library in another program, such as AutoCad which appears in the Adobe Reader third-party license document linked above. However, these are the kinds of distinctions that any VDB should be fully aware of, and be able to disclaim and explain more readily.
Moving on to the actual ‘Secunia Vulnerability Review 2014‘ report, the very first line opens up a huge can of worms as the number is incorrect and entirely misleading. The flawed methodology used to generate the statistic cascades down into a wide variety of other incorrect conclusions.
The absolute number of vulnerabilities detected was 13,073, discovered in 2,289 products from 539 vendors.
It is clear that there are a significant amount of vulnerabilities that are being counted multiple times. While this number is generated from Secunia’s internal ‘vulnerability count’ number associated with each advisory, they miss the most obvious flaw; that many of their advisories cover the exact same vulnerability. Rather than abstract so that one advisory is updated to reflect additional products impacted, Secunia will release additional advisories. This is immediately visible in cases where a protocol is found to have a vulnerability, such as the “TLS / DTLS Protocol CBC-mode Ciphersuite Timing Analysis Plaintext Recovery Cryptanalysis Attack” (OSVDB 89848). This one vulnerability impacts any product that implements that protocol, so it is expected to be widespread. As such, that one vulnerability tracks to 175 different Secunia advisories. This is not a case where 175 different vendors coded the same vulnerability or the issue is distinct in their products. This is a case of a handful of base products (e.g. OpenSSL, GnuTLS, PolarSSL) implementing the flawed protocol, and hundreds of vendors using that software bundled as part of their own.
While that is an extreme example, the problem is certainly front-and-center due to their frequent multi-advisory coverage of the same issue. Consider that one OpenSSL vulnerability may be covered in 11 Secunia advisories. Then look at other products that are frequently used as libraries or found on multiple Linux distributions, each of which get their own advisory. Below is a quick chart showing examples of a single vulnerability in one of several products, along with the number of Secunia advisories that references that one vulnerability:
|Example w/ 1 Vuln||# of Secunia Adv|
|CVE-2013-6367 Linux Kernel||15|
|CVE-2013-6644 Google Chrome||5|
|CVE-2013-6415 Ruby on Rails||10|
|CVE-2014-0368 Oracle Java||27|
This problem is further compounded when you consider the number of vulnerabilities in those products in 2013, where each one received multiple Secunia advisories. This table shows the products from above, and the number of unique vulnerabilities as tracked by OSVDB for that product in 2013 that had at least one associated Secunia advisory:
|Software||# of Vulns in product in 2013 w/ Secunia Ref|
|Ruby on Rails||14|
It is easy to see how Secunia quickly jumped to 13,073 vulnerabilities while only issuing 3,327 advisories in 2013. If there is any doubt about vulnerability count inflation, consider these four Secunia advisories that cover the same set of vulnerabilities, each titled “WebSphere Application Server Multiple Java Vulnerabilities“. Secunia created four advisories for the same vulnerabilities simply to abstract based on the major versions affected, as seen in this table:
|Secunia Advisory||# of Vulns in product in 2013|
|56778||reported in versions 18.104.22.168 through 22.214.171.124.|
|56852||reported in versions 126.96.36.199 through 188.8.131.52.|
|56891||reported in version 184.108.40.206 through 220.127.116.11.|
|56897||reported in versions 18.104.22.168 through 22.214.171.124.|
The internal ‘vulnerability count’ for these advisories are very likely 25, 25, 25, and 27, adding up to 102. Applied against IBM, you have 27 vulnerabilities inflated greatly and counting for 102 instead. Then consider that IBM has several hundred products that use Java, OpenSSL, and other common software. It is easy to see how Secunia could jump to erroneous conclusions:
The 32% year-on-year increase in the total number of vulnerabilities from 2012 to 2013 is mainly due to a vulnerability increase in IBM products of 442% (from 772 vulnerabilities in 2012 to 4,181 in 2013).
The next set of statistics is convoluted on the surface, but even more confusing when you read the details and explanations for how they were derived:
Numbers – Top 50 portfolio
The number of vulnerabilities in the Top 50 portfolio was 1,208, discovered in 27 products from 7 vendors plus the most used operating system, Microsoft Windows 7.
To assess how exposed endpoints are, we analyze the types of products typically found on an endpoint. Throughout 2013, anonymous data has been gathered from scans of the millions of private computers which have the Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI) installed. Secunia data shows that the computer of a typical PSI user has an average of 75 programs installed on it. Naturally, there are country- and region-based variations regarding which programs are installed. Therefore, for the sake of clarity, we chose to focus on a representative portfolio of the 50 most common products found on a typical computer and the most used operating system, and analyze the state of this portfolio and operating system throughout the course of 2013. These 50 programs are comprised of 33 Microsoft programs and 17 non-Microsoft (third-party) programs.
Reading down to page 18 of the full report, you see the table listing the “Top 50″ software installed as determined by their PSI software. On the list is a wide variety of software that are either components of Windows (meaning they come installed by default, but show up in the “Programs” list e.g. Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable) or in a few cases third-party software (e.g. Google Toolbar), many of which have 0 associated vulnerabilities. In other cases they include product driver support tools (e.g. Realtek AC 97 Update and Remove Driver Tool) or ActiveX components that are generally not installed via traditional means (e.g. comdlg32 ActiveX Control). With approximately half of the Top 50 software having vulnerabilities, and mixing different types of software components, it causes summary put forth by Secunia to be misleading. Since they include Google Chrome on the list, by their current logic, they should also include WebKit which is a third-party library wrapped into Chrome, just as they include ‘Microsoft Powerpoint Viewer’ (33) which is a component of ‘Microsoft Powerpoint’ (14) and does not install separately.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this Top 50 summary is that Secunia only counts 7 vendors in their list. Reading through the list carefully, you see that there are actually 10 vendors represented: Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle, Mozilla, Google, Realtek, Apple, Piriform (CCleaner), VideoLAN, and Flexera (InstallShield). This seriously calls into question any conclusions put forth by Secunia regarding their Top 50 list and challenges their convoluted and irreproducible methodology.
Rather than offer a rebuttal line by line for the rest of the report and blog, we’ll just look at some of the included statistics that are questionable, wrong, or just further highlight that Secunia has missed some vulnerabilities.
In 2013, 727 vulnerabilities were discovered in the 5 most popular browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari.
By our count, there were at least 756 vulnerabilities in these browsers: Google Chrome (295), Mozilla Firefox (155), Internet Explorer (138), Opera (9), Apple Safari (8 on desktop, 4 on mobile), and WebKit (component of Chrome and Safari, 147). The count in Opera is likely very low though. In July 2013, Opera issued the first browser based on Blink, so it’s very likely that it has been affected by the vast majority of the Blink vulnerability fixes by Google. However, Opera is not very good at clearly reporting vulnerabilities, so this very likely accounts for the very low count that both we and Secunia have; something they should clearly have disclaimed.
In 2013, 70 vulnerabilities were discovered in the 5 most popular PDF readers: Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, PDF-XChange Viewer, Sumatra PDF and Nitro PDF Reader.
By our count, there were at least 76 vulnerabilities in these PDF readers: Adobe Reader (69), Foxit (2), PDF-XChange (1), Sumatra (0), and Nitro (4).
The actual vulnerability count in Microsoft programs was 192 in 2013; 128.6% higher than in 2012.
Based on our data, there were 363 vulnerabilities in Microsoft software in 2013, not 192. This is up from 207 in 2012, giving us a 175.3% increase.
As in 2012, not many zero-day vulnerabilities were identified in 2013: 10 in total in the Top 50 software portfolio, and 14 in All products.
A zero-day vulnerability is a vulnerability that is actively exploited by hackers before it is publicly known, and before the vendor has published a patch for it.
By that definition, which we share, we tracked 72 vulnerabilities that were “discovered in the wild” in 2013. To be fair, our number is considerably higher because we actually track mobile vulnerabilities, something Secunia typically ignores. More curious is that based on a cursory search, we find 17 of their advisories that qualify as 0-day by their definition, suggesting they do not have a method for accurately counting them: SA51820 (1), SA52064 (1), SA52116 (2), SA52196 (2), SA52374 (2), SA52451 (1), SA53314 (1), SA54060 (1), SA54274 (1), SA54884 (2), SA55584 (1), SA55611 (1), and SA55809 (1).
Find out how quickly software vendors issue fixes – so-called patches – when vulnerabilities are discovered in All products.
This comes from their “Time to Patch for all products” summary page. This statement seems pretty clear; How fast do vendors issue fixes when vulnerabilities are discovered? However, Secunia does not track that specifically! The more appropriate question that can be answered by their data is “When are patches available at or after the time of public disclosure?” These are two very different metrics. The information on this page is generated using PSI/CSI statistics. So if a vulnerability is disclosed and a fix is already available at that time, it counts as within 24 hours. It doesn’t factor in that the vendor may have spent months fixing the issue before disclosure and patch.
In conclusion, while we appreciate companies sharing vulnerability intelligence, the Secunia 2013 vulnerability report is ultimately fluff that provides no benefit to organizations. The flawed methodology and inability for them to parse their own data means that the conclusions cannot be relied upon for making business decisions. When generating vulnerability statistics, a wide variety of bias will always be present. It is absolutely critical that your vulnerability aggregation methodology be clearly explained so that results are qualified and have more meaning.
One thing that we emphasize when talking about our database is what it really represents. While we catalog tens of thousands of vulnerabilities more than any other database, we are also upfront that there are still thousands, possibly tens of thousands more vulnerabilities that are already public, but just haven’t found their way into a VDB yet. These are not 0days, vulnerabilities that exist, have been discovered, but remain private. These are public and out there to be cataloged. We have been actively scouring a variety of resources to catalog those vulnerabilities over the last ten years, and we have a long ways to go.
Earlier today I saw an image that really visualizes this point on Twitter via @nitr0usmx. He indicates that the image originates from Fuzz Testing for Dummies by Art Manion and Michael Orlando. As you read about vulnerabilities and patch your systems, remember the bigger picture.
Despite the talk given at BlackHat 2013 by Steve Christey and myself, companies continue to produce pedestrian and inaccurate statistics. This batch comes from Cristian Florian at GFI Software and offers little more than confusing and misleading statistics. Florian falls into many of the traps and pitfalls outlined previously.
These are compiled from data from the National Vulnerability Database (NVD).
There’s your first problem, using a drastically inferior data set than is available. The next bit really invalidates the rest of the article:
On average, 13 new vulnerabilities per day were reported in 2013, for a total of 4,794 security vulnerabilities: the highest number in the last five years.
This is laughable. OSVDB cataloged 10,472 disclosed vulnerabilities for 2013 (average of 28 a day), meaning these statistics were generated with less than half of known vulnerabilities. 2013 was our third year of breaking 10,000 vulnerabilities, where the rest have a single year (2006) if any at all. Seriously; what is the point of generating statistics when you knowingly use a data set lacking so much? Given that 2012 was another ’10k’ year, the statement about it being the highest number in the last five years is also wrong.
Around one-third of these vulnerabilities were classified ‘high severity’, meaning that an exploit for these vulnerabilities would have a high impact on the attacked systems.
By who? Who generated these CVSS scores exactly, and why isn’t that disclaimed in the article? Why no mention of the ‘CVSS 10′ scoring problem as VDBs must default to that for a completely unspecified issue? With a serious number of vulnerabilities either scored by vendors with a history of incorrect scoring, or VDBs forced to use ’10’ for unspecified issues, these numbers are completely meaningless and skewed.
The vulnerabilities were discovered in software provided by 760 different vendors, but the top 10 vendors were found to have 50% of the vulnerabilities:
I would imagine Oracle is accurate on this table, as we have cataloged 570 vulnerabilites in 2013 from them. However, the rest of the table is inaccurate because #2 is wrong. You say Cisco with 373, I say ffmpeg with 490. You say #10 is HP with 112 and I counter that WebKit had 139 (which in turn adds to Apple and Google among others). You do factor in that whole “software library” thing, right? For example, what products incorporate ffmpeg that have their own vulnerabilities? These are contenders for taking the #1 and #2 spot on the table.
Most Targeted Operating Systems in 2013
As we frequently see, no mention of severity here. Of the 363 Microsoft vulnerabilities in 2013, compared to the 161 Linux Kernel issues, impact and severity is important to look at. Privilege escalation and code execution is typical in Microsoft, while authenticated local denial of service accounts for 22% of the Linux issues (and only 1% for Microsoft).
In 2013 web browsers continued to justle – as in previous years – for first place on the list of third-party applications with the most security vulnerabilities. If Mozilla Firefox had the most security vulnerabilities reported last year and in 2009, Google Chrome had the “honor” in 2010 and 2011, it is now the turn of Microsoft Internet Explorer to lead with 128 vulnerabilities, 117 of them ‘critical’.
We already know your numbers are horribly wrong, as you don’t factor in WebKit vulnerabilities that affect multiple browsers. Further, what is with the sorting of this table putting MSIE up top despite it not being reported with the most vulnerabilities?
Sticking to just the browsers, Google Chrome had 297 reported vulnerabilities in 2013 and that does not count additional WebKit issues that very likely affect it. Next is Mozilla and then Microsoft IE with Safari at the lowest (again, ignoring the WebKit issue).
Via Twitter, blogs, or talking with our people, you may have heard us mention the ‘scraping’ problem we have. In short, individuals and companies are using automated methods to harvest (or ‘scrape’) our data. They do it via a wide variety of methods but most boil down to a couple methods involving a stupid amount of requests made to our web server.
This is bad for everyone, including you. First, it grinds our poor server to a stand-still at times, even after several upgrades to larger hosting plans with more resources. Second, it violates our license as many of these people scraping our data are using it in a commercial capacity without returning anything to the project. Third, it forces us to remove functionality that you liked and may have been using in an acceptable manner. Over the years we’ve had to limit the API, restrict the information / tools you see unauthenticated (e.g. RSS feed, ‘browse’, ‘advanced search’), and implement additional protections to stop the scraping.
So just how bad is it? We enabled some CloudFlare protection mechanisms a few weeks back and then looked at the logs.
- The attacks against OSVDB.org were so numerous, the logs being generated by CloudFlare were too big to be managed by their customer dashboard application. They quickly fixed that problem, which is great. Apparently they hadn’t run into this before, even for the HUGE sites getting DDoS’d. Think about it.
- We were hit by requests with no user agent (a sign of someone scraping us via automated means) 1,060,599 times in a matter of days…
- We got hit by 1,843,180 SQL injection attack attempts, trying to dump our entire database in a matter of weeks…
- We got hit by ‘generic’ web app attacks only 688,803 times in a matter of weeks….
- In the two-hour period of us chatting about the new protection mechanisms and looking at logs, we had an additional ~ 130,000 requests with no user-agent.
To put that in perspective, DatalossDB was hit only 218 times in the same time period by requests with no user agent. We want to be open and want to help everyone with security information. But we also need for them to play by the rules.
[Sent to Ashley directly via email. Posting for the rest of the world as yet another example of how vulnerability statistics are typically done poorly. In this case, a company that does not aggregate vulnerabilities themselves, and has no particular expertise in vulnerability metrics weighs in on 2013 “statistics”. They obviously did not attend Steve Christey and my talk at BlackHat last year titled “Buying Into the Bias: Why Vulnerability Statistics Suck“. If we do this talk again, we have a fresh example to use courtesy of Skybox.]
[Update: SkyboxSecurity has quickly written a second blog in response to this one, clarifying a lot of their methodology. No word from Carman or SC Magazine. Not surprised; they have a dismal history as far as printing corrections, retractions, or even addressing criticism.]
In your recent article “Microsoft leads vendors with most critical vulnerabilities“, you cite research that is factually incorrect, and I fully expect a retraction to be printed. In fact, the list of errata in this article is considerably longer than the article itself. Some of this may seem to be semantics to you, but I assure you that in our industry they are anything but. Read down, where I show you how their research is *entirely wrong* and Microsoft is not ‘number one’ here.
1. If Skybox is only comparing vendors based on their database, as maps to CVE identifiers, then their database for this purpose is nothing but a copy of CVE. It is important to note this because aggregating vulnerability information is considerably more demanding than aggregating a few databases that do that work for you.
2. You say “More than half of the company’s 414 vulnerabilities were critical.” First, you do not disclaim that this number is limited to 2013 until your last paragraph. Second, Microsoft had 490 disclosed vulnerabilities in 2013 according to OSVDB.org, apparently not one of the “20” sources Skybox checked. And we don’t claim to have all of the disclosed vulnerabilities.
3. You cite “critical vulnerability” and refer to Microsoft’s definition of that as “one that allows code execution without user interaction.” Yet Skybox did not define ‘critical’. This is amateur hour in the world of vulnerabilities. For example, if Microsoft’s definition were taken at face value, then code execution in a sandbox would still qualify, while being considerably less severe than without. If you go for what I believe is the ‘spirit’ of the research, then you are talking about vulnerabilities with a CVSS score of 10.0 (network, no user interaction, no authentication, full code execution to impact confidentiality / integrity / availability completely), then Microsoft had 10 vulnerabilities. Yes, only 10. If you add the ‘user interaction’ component, giving it a CVSS score of 9.3, they had 176. That is closer to the ‘216’ Skybox is claiming. So again, how can you cite their research when they don’t define what ‘critical’ is exactly? As we frequently see, companies like to throw around vulnerability statistics but give no way to reproduce their findings.
4. You say, “The lab’s findings weren’t particularly surprising, considering the vendors’ market shares. Microsoft, for instance, is the largest company and its products are the most widely used.” This is completely subjective and arbitrary. While Microsoft captures the desktop OS market share, they do not capture the browser share for example. Further, like all of the vendors in this study, they use third-party code from other people. I point this line out because when you consider that another vendor/software is really ‘number one’, it makes this line seem to
be the basis of an anecdotal fallacy.
5. You finish by largely parroting Skybox, “Skybox analyzed more than 20 sources of data to determine the number of vulnerabilities that occurred in 2013. The lab found that about 700 critical vulnerabilities occurred in 2013, and more than 500 of them were from four vendors.” We’ve covered the ‘critical’ fallacy already, as they never define what that means. I mentioned the “CVE” angle above. Now, I question why you didn’t challenge them further on this. As a security writer, the notion that “20” sources has any meaning in that context should be suspect. Did they simply look to 20 other vulnerability databases (that do all the initial data aggregation) and then aggregate them? Did they look at 20 unique sources of vulnerability information themselves (e.g. the MS / Adobe / Oracle advisory pages)? This matters greatly. Why? OSVDB.org monitors over 1,500 sources for vulnerability information. Monitoring CVE, BID, Secunia, and X-Force (other large vulnerability databases) is considered to be 4 of those sources. So what does 20 mean exactly? To me, it means they are amateurs at best.
6. Jumping to the Skybox blog, “Oracle had the highest total number of vulnerabilities at 568, but only 18 percent of their total vulnerabilities were deemed critical.” This is nothing short of a big red warning flag to anyone familiar with vulnerabilities. This line alone should have made you steer clear from their ‘research’ and demanded you challenge them. It is well known that Oracle does not follow the CVSS standards when scoring a majority of their vulnerabilities. It has been shown time and time again that what they scored is not grounded in reality, when compared to the
researcher report that is eventually released. Every aspect of a CVSS score is frequently botched. Microsoft and Adobe do not have that reputation; they are known for generally providing accurate scoring. Since that scoring is the quickest way to determine criticality, it is important to note here.
7. Now for what you are likely waiting for. If not Microsoft, who? Before I answer that, let me qualify my statements since no one else at this table did. Based on vulnerabilities initially disclosed in 2013, that have a CVSS score of 10.0 (meaning full remote code execution without user interaction), we get this:
Two vendors place higher than Microsoft based on this. Now, if we consider “context-dependent code execution”, meaning that user interaction is required but it leads to full code execution (e.g. click this malicious PDF/DOC/GIF and we base that on a 9.3 CVSS score (CVSS2#AV:N/AC:M/Au:N/C:C/I:C/A:C”)) or full remote code execution (CVSS2#AV:N/AC:L/Au:N/C:C/I:C/A:C) we get the following:
I know, Microsoft is back on top. But wait…
OSF / OSVDB.org
If you didn’t catch the tweet, OSVDB pushed its 100,000th vulnerability on December 25, 2013.
This goal was on our minds the last quarter of 2013, with the entire team working to push an average of 36 vulnerabilities a day to reach it. That is quite the difference from when I started on the project ten years ago, where one day might bring 10 new vulnerabilities. Factor in the years where only one or two people worked on the project, and 100k in 10 years is substantial. In addition to the numbers, we track a considerable amount more data about each vulnerability than we did at the start, and every entry that goes out is 100% complete.
While this is a landmark number of sorts, as no other vulnerability database has that many entries, it is still a bit arbitrary to us. That’s because we know there are tens of thousands more vulnerabilities out there, already disclosed in some manner, that are not in the database yet. As time permits when doing our daily scrapes for new vulnerabilities, we work on backfilling the previous years. It is a bit scary to know that there are so many vulnerabilities out there that are not cataloged by any vulnerability database. It doesn’t matter if they were disclosed weeks ago, or decades ago. Thousands of pieces of software are used as libraries in bigger packages these days, and what may seem like a harmless crash to one could lead to code execution when bundled with additional software. It is critical that companies have vulnerability information available to them, even if it is older. Better late than never may sound rough, but it certainly is the truth.
In 2014, the only goal we have right now is to continue pushing out high-quality data that comes from a comprehensive list of sources. Over 1,500 sources with more being added every day actually. Now that the project is funded by Risk Based Security, we have an entire team that ensures this coverage. Now more than ever before, we’re in the position to slowly make the goal of cataloging every public vulnerability a reality.
We are occasionally asked how many people work on OSVDB. This question comes from those familiar with the project, and potential customers of our vulnerability intelligence feed. Back in the day, I had no problem answering it quickly and honestly. For years we limped along with one “full time” (unpaid volunteer) and a couple part-timers (unpaid volunteers), where those terms were strictly based on the hours worked. Since the start of 2012 though, we have had actual full-timers doing daily work on the project. This comes through the sponsorship provided by Risk Based Security (RBS), who also provided us with a good amount of developer time and hosting resources. Note that we are also frequently asked how much data comes from the community, to which we giggle and answer “virtually none” (less than 0.01%).
These days however, I don’t like to answer that question because it frequently seems to be a recipe for critique. For example, on one potential client call we were asked how many employees RBS had working on the offering. I answered honestly, that it was only three at time, because that was technically true. That didn’t represent the number of bodies as one was full-time but not RBS, and two were not full time. Before that could be qualified the potential client scoffed loudly, “there is no way you do that much with so few people”. Despite explaining that we had more than three people, I simply offered for them to enjoy a 30 day free trial of our data feed. Let the data answer his question.
To this day, if we say we have #lownumber, we get the response above. If we say we have #highnumber that includes part timers and drive-by employees (that are not tasked with this work but can dabble if they like), then we face criticism that we don’t output enough. Yes, despite us aggregating and producing over twice as much content as any of our competitors, we face that silly opinion. The number of warm bodies also doesn’t speak to the skill level of everyone involved. Two of our full time workers (one paid, one unpaid) have extensive history managing vulnerability databases and have continually evolved the offerings over the years. While most VDBs look the same as they did 10 years ago, OSVDB has done a lot to aggregate more data and more meta-data about each vulnerability than anyone else. We have been ahead of the curve at almost every turn, understanding and adapting to the challenges and pitfalls of VDBs.
So to officially answer the question, how many people work on this project? We have just enough. We make sure that we have the appropriate resources to provide the services offered. When we get more customers, we’ll hire more people to take on the myriad of additional projects and data aggregation we have wanted to do for years. Data that we feel is interesting and relevant, but no one is asking for yet. Likely because they haven’t thought of it, or haven’t realized the value of it. We have a lot more in store, and it is coming sooner than later now that we have the full support of RBS. If you are using any other vulnerability intelligence feed, it is time to consider the alternative.