Security Advisories, Mail Lists, and You

When a security researcher finds a vulnerability, they may choose to release the details in a formal advisory. The different between a random post to a mail list and an advisory typically involves the level of detail and the amount of peripheral information to the vulnerability. This includes discovery date, vendor communication timeline, patch information, formal writeup and technical details of the vulnerability. Because advisories are used as marketing material as much (or more) as vulnerability research/disclosure, some security companies would rather use them to attract attention to their web site.

To do this, they may post a brief message to a mail list announcing the discovery of a new vulnerability and a link to the advisory on their web page. This may seem logical and understandable, but in the long run this does a huge disservice to the security community. What happens when the security company goes out of business or gets purchased by another company? Overnight, all of their advisories and research may disappear. Mail list archives will then contain no useful information and a dead link to a site/advisory no longer there.

This problem (and debate) goes back a ways, most notably in 2000 when Elias Levy (then moderator of Bugtraq) rejected a post from @stake because the vulnerability report did not contain enough information. Thomas Greene covered this incident and dug into the issue. Levy later cited his reason for rejecting the post, which touches on my previous post:

“For very long we have tolerated the marketing copy on vendor advisories because while annoying they were accompanied by useful information. But in this change there is no value added to list subscribers. It’s for this reason that we are not accepting such advisories,”

For those of you who side with companies that post glorified advertisements without technical details, consider the following quote from Levy:

“I’ve asked the list subscribers for their opinions. I’ve received over five-hundred messages to far. While a handful of people liked the notices, the large majority of them, probably around 95 per cent, found the change to be a negative one and want me to hold firm to the policy of not approving them.”

The ultimate irony here is the Levy work[s|ed] for SecurityFocus, who was purchased by Symantec, who also recently purchased @stake and subsequently removed the @stake advisories from the web site a few weeks ago.

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