2008-10-24

In Case of Vulnerability, Do Not Discard Brain

I saw this while reading Bruce Schneier's blog last night and felt it entirely appropriate to the recent reaction of the security community to flaws in major pieces of software.

First, there was Dan Kaminsky's DNS flaw. EVERYBODY PANIC! Not only was the community in an uproar about how this could be the end of the Internet as we know it, but adoration of Kaminsky was rampant, with some claiming he even changed the future of internet security by being the umteenth person to practice responsible disclosure. The flaw was serious. Swift reaction by administrators was in fact necessary to stymie widespread problems. But the panic induced and irrational aspects of the response are not much different than US citizens immediately surrendering their civil liberties post-9/11 somehow thinking this would prevent another terrorist attack. The one unusual example set by Dan Kaminsky was his rational approach to a serious vulnerability. That, my friends, is what is lacking in our community today.

Case in point: the most recent Microsoft RPC vulnerability and corresponding out-of-cycle patch: MS08-067. Should we be concerned about this? Absolutely. Does PoC code exist? Yes - and we know our Antivirus vendors won't detect it because they feel proof-of-concept code is insignificant rubbish. Oh, woe is the security analyst! Even the venerable SANS Internet Storm Center is in a tizzy:

It is expected that with the release of the update, much more of the hacker community will become aware of how to exploit this and create a major worm outbreak or botnet activity.

Look, a swift response is necessary, and for those responsible for software patching this is most certainly an all-hands-on-deck scenario. I maintain, though, that this is mostly a concern for home users. In light of the Nimdas, Code Reds, Slammers, and Blasters of the past, companies have built and honed their software patching infrastructure - especially with respect to Microsoft products. And once our Anti-Virus masters deem the proof-of-concept code "in the wild", when their job becomes easy, I'm sure we'll get detection for our AV products. Distribution of virus definitions is also a mostly-solved problem for the enterprise. The only folks who need to worry are those who work in environments where management has decided that these infrastructure components are not important, and therefore problems still exist despite a litany of products available to address them... and Mom and Dad, of course.

The security community needs to make sure the appropriate urgency is communicated to individuals responsible for infrastructure components, and keep their ear to the ground, but this is not a time for panic. Panic leads to irrational decision-making like slamming out patches without adequate testing on mission-critical systems, and reduced focus on sophisticated adversaries in favor of these more broad issues which, in the end, will most likely have a smaller impact in terms of net loss if handled with grace.

In case of vulnerability, do not discard brain.

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