Monthly Archives: September, 2015

Ruminations on David Weinstein’s “Ruminations on App CVEs”

David Weinstein, a researcher at NowSecure, has posted a blog titled “Ruminations on App CVEs“. Thanks to Will Dormann’s Tweet it came to our attention, and he is correct! We have opinions on this. Quoted material below is from Weinstein’s blog unless otherwise attributed.

CVE is well-positioned to play a critical role in tracking the risk level of mobile computing.

This is trivially to debate and counter in 2015. Until last year, CVE maintained a public list of sources that was virtually unchanged since its inception in 1999. After pressure from the public and the CVE Editorial Board, compromised of non-MITRE industry “advisors”, CVE revised their coverage policy and shifted to a new system of ‘full’ or ‘partial’ coverage based on the vendor, product, and/or vulnerability source. On the surface, this list looks promising, but upon any significant scrutiny, it is utterly lacking in adequate coverage. In order to head off complaints, their webpage even qualifies ‘full coverage’ sources by using the phrasing “nearly all issues disclosed” to “allow the flexibility to potentially postpone coverage of minor issues”.

In fact, Steve Christey may disagree with your assertion. In 2013, he posted to the VIM list saying:

Unfortunately, CVE can no longer guarantee full coverage of all public vulnerabilities… we are not well-prepared to handle the full volume of CVEs for all publicly-disclosed vulnerabilities… – Steve Christey, Editor of CVE

Given the 39,280 vulnerabilities we track that do not have a CVE assignment, assignment volume is specifically a problem for them. Further, the current state of CVE assignments is a disaster, and I have been in mails with CVE staff actively encouraging them to figure out the problem, as my now 27 day wait for three different CVE assignments is getting ridiculous.

However, CVEs have largely focused on tracking server-side and related flaws and yet the security community has evolved to track client-side vulnerabilities as a critical aspect of dealing with risk.

While I can’t offer you a set of handy statistics to back this claim, know that CVE, or their CNAs, assign identifiers to a considerable number of client applications. In fact, with the release of Apple iOS 9 yesterday, the public learned of 91 _new_ vulnerabilities affecting the platform, many of them client-side. I do not believe this statement to be a fair criticism of CVE’s assignment history and policy.

While CVE has worked well for tracking system flaws in mobile operating systems, there remain quirks with regard to mobile app flaws.

There are around 90 vulnerabilities in Google Android alone, that do not have CVE assignments, and that represents a fairly significant percentage overall. However, in this case we can’t blame CVE at all for this shortcoming, as the fault lies entirely with Google instead.

It seems like using CVE is the “right thing” here but MITRE has been very cryptic (in my opinion) about what qualifies as something that gets a CVE and what doesn’t. These discussions should not happen in some closed door meeting in my opinion, or at least should not end there…

First, please factor in that CVE and every other vulnerability database has gone through a world of headache, dealing with researchers who do not fully understand the concept of ‘crossing privilege boundaries’. The number of “not-a-vuln” vulnerability reports we see has skyrocketed this year. Further, even from individuals that are very technical, don’t always convey their information in terms that are easily understood. They clearly see a vulnerability, the report they send doesn’t show it to our eyes. It requires back-and-forth to figure it out and better understand the exact vulnerability. Bottom line, some are clear-cut cases and typically get a quick assignment. Other cases are murky at best.

Second, I fully agree that such a discussion should not be behind closed doors. At the very least, it should include the CVE editorial board, and ideally should include anyone in the industry who has an interest in it. If you want to bring up the discussion on the VIM mail list, which has over one hundred members, including at least one person from each of the major public vulnerability databases, please do.

Is MITRE consistently responding to other researchers’ requests for CVEs?

No. The turnaround time for requesting a CVE has gone up considerably. As mentioned above, I have been waiting for three assignments for almost one month now, while CVE assigned two others filed on the same day within hours. They are not currently consistent with the same researcher, even one familiar with CVE and their abstraction and assignment policy.

Attaching a CVE to a vulnerable app, even if it’s an old version, is actually a big part of tracking the reputation of the developer as well!

Just quoting to signal-boost this, as it is a very important comment, and absolutely true.

Who acts as a certified numbering authority (CNA) on behalf of all the app developers on the market?

Based on the current list of CNAs, there is no CNA that covers third-party apps really, regardless of platform. Also note that many CNAs are not currently fulfilling their duties properly, and I have been trying to address this with MITRE for months. There is no current policy on filing a complaint against a CNA, there is no method for warning or revoking CNA status, and MITRE has dropped the ball replying to me on several different threads on this topic.

Should Google step in here as a formal body to assist with coordinating CVEs etc for these apps?

Absolutely not. While they are positioned to be the ideal CNA, their history in CVE assignments has been dismal. Further, they have so many diverse products, each with their own mechanism for bug reporting (if one exists), own disclosure policy (if one exists), and disclosure method (which doesn’t exist for many). We can’t rely on Google to disclose the vulnerabilities, let alone act as a CNA for standardized and formalized ID assignment. Could Google fix this? Absolutely. They are obviously overflowing with brilliant individuals. However, this would require a central security body in the company that crosses all departments, and fulfills such a duty. Due to the volume of software and vulnerabilities they deal with, it would require a small team. The same kind that IBM, Cisco, and other large companies already stand up and have used for years.

Is the process MITRE established designed and prepared to handle the mountain of bugs that will be thrown at it when the community really focuses on this problem as we have?

No, as covered above. CVE is already backpedaling on coverage, and has been for a couple years. That does not give any level of comfort that they would be willing to, or even could handle such a workload.

Can the community better crowd source this effort with confirmation of vulnerability reporting in a more scalable and distributed manner that doesn’t place a single entity in a potentially critical path?

Possibly. However, in the context of mobile, Google is a better choice than crowd-sourcing via the community. The community largely doesn’t understand the standards and abstraction policy that helps define CVE and the value. Many CNAs do not either unfortunately, despite them being in the best position to handle such assignments. Moving to a model that relies on more trusted CNAs has merit, but it would also require better documentation and training from MITRE to ensure the CNA follows the standards.

Every vendor distributing an app on the Play Store should be required to provide a security related contact e.g.,

Except, statistically, I bet that not even half of them have a domain! The app stores are full of a wide variety of applications that are little more than a hobby of one person. They don’t get a web page or a formal anything. Given the raw number of apps, that is also a tall order. Maybe apps that enjoy a certain amount of success (via download count?) would then be subjected to such rules?

Google could be a little clearer about when should be used for organized disclosure of bugs and consider taking a stronger position in the process.

Little clearer” is being more than generous. Remember, until a month or two ago, they had no formal place or process to make announcements of security updates. Disclosures related to Android have been all over the board and it is clear that Google has no process around it.

MITRE and/or whoever runs CVE these days should clarify what is appropriate for CVEs so that we know where we should be investing our efforts

Absolutely, and CVE’s documentation the last decade or more has not been properly updated. Having such documentation would also potentially cut down on their headache, as requests are made for issues clearly not a vulnerability. But newcomers to security research don’t have a well-written guide that explain it.

Should we pursue a decentralized CVE request process based on crowdsourcing and reputation?

I cannot begin to imagine what this would entail or what you have in mind. On the surface, won’t happen, won’t work.

Hopefully others in the industry chime in on this discussion, and again, I encourage you to take it to the CVE Editorial Board and the VIM list, to solicit feedback from more. I appreciate you bringing this topic up and getting it attention.