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Despite risk of aiding hackers, experts favor disclosing vulnerabilities

Antone Gonsalves | Oct. 8, 2013
Vulnerability disclosure gives users a chance to defend themselves.

Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer for Qualys, also believed in working closely with the vendor with one caveat.

"If the vendor is unavailable or not willing to cooperate, the researcher should publish the vulnerability and, if possible, provide workarounds," he said.

Ron Gula, chief executive officer of Tenable Network Security, said researchers often have to follow their conscience on when to disclose a flaw, because of the amount of time tech vendors can take to distribute a patch.

While some are quick, others, such as makers of industrial control systems, can take years.

"We have found zero-day vulnerabilities at Tenable, just through the course of normal vulnerability testing, and it has taken the vendor two years to come up with a patch," Gula said.

Ultimately, responsible disclosure is subjective, since everyone has their own criteria for determining when the number of attacks against an undisclosed vulnerability is sufficient to warrant going public, Zak Dehlawi, senior security engineer for Security Innovation, said. Other judgment calls include whether the vendor is being cooperative.

"I view that if an attack is happening in the wild, then it's appropriate for security researchers to release details about the vulnerability," he said.

By doing so, pressure is placed on the software maker and anti-virus vendors to offer defenses, and system administrators can take steps to secure corporate computers.

Matthew Neely, director of research and development at SecureState, agreed. "I'm a believer that the more information that is available, the better for the defenders to be able to defend their systems."


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