Thursday, September 21, 2006

Best Wishes MJF

My pal Mary Jo Foley has left the building.

* Best of luck to a great reporter and champion person.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Flaw Counting Game Redux

Since releasing Firefox 1.5 in November 2005, Mozilla has patched 59 security vulnerabilities in the browser, more than half rated by the company as "critical."

Over that same period, according to Microsoft's Jeff Jones, the IE patch count stands at 35.

There seems to be a subtle suggestion that flaw counting is a sign that one browser is more secure -- or has less bugs -- than the other. This is a shaky stance for a very simple reason: Microsoft does not publicly disclose everything that's been patched. Or those that they know about for months and months and just doesn't fix. If you don't believe me, just check with Aviv Raff.

A few days ago, I had this discussion with Mozilla's new security chief Window Snyder and she raised another interesting point. Mozilla may prioritize flaws but, when updates are shipped, the company will fix *every* bug reported. By comparison, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of bugs that Microsoft won't fix until a future service pack. "Vulnerabilities that are found internally are fixed in service packs or major revisions and are also not counted," Snyder told me. As a former Microsoft security strategist, she should know.

Borrowing from ideas presented by Dan Geer, Allen Jones and others, Snyder said Mozilla is working on a new proposal to accurately evaluate/compare product security, using things like:

Days of Risk -- How long is the customer at risk?
Transparency -- How can the industry validate the vendor's metrics?
Complexity -- How does the architecture of the product support security?
Scope of Fixes -- Which bugs get fixed?

In the final analysis, it's all for marketing/PR purposes. But, it would sure help stop the silly counting game.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Patch Tuesday Remainders

** Cross-posted from eWEEK **

I've cobbled together a few leftovers from Microsoft's Patch Tuesday that are worth noting separately:

** If the updated MS06-042 bulletin includes a patch for a brand new, previously undiscovered vulnerability, why is it being re-re-released? Shouldn't this have been rolled out as a fresh IE update? eEye's Ross Brown sums it up perfectly:

Badly-mangled patches are rare, having a patch for a badly-mangled patch is extremely rare. Because of this, the onus is even higher on Microsoft to practice the vendor version of responsible disclosure -- don't bury the details, but actually speak with a loud, clear voice -- "Guys, this isn't a re-release of the update you already have, this is a new release you need to apply immediately"

** The Microsoft Publisher flaw covered in the MS06-054 update was originally discovered and reported to Microsoft on 3/8/2005. It took the company 1 year, 1 month, 6 days (402 days) to provide a fix.

** It was interesting to see that Computer Terrorism, the British hacking group that exposed Microsoft's inability to properly diagnose a flaw warning in Nov. 2005, is now working "responsibly" with software vendors. The group held its tongue for 402 days on the high-risk Publisher flaw and also worked closely with Adobe on the critical Flash patch that was also released alongside the Microsoft updates.

** It took Adobe 4 months (123 days) to push the Flash fix out the door. Computer Terrorism says a reliable multi-platform/multi-browser Web-based proof-of-concept was created and shared with the vendor.

** There are at least three publicly-known, high-risk flaws in Microsoft Office products that will remain unpatched for at least another 30 days. The most recent MS Word vulnerability, Microsoft confirms is being used in zero-day attacks was not addressed. Patches for two separate high-risk Excel vulnerabilities, known to Microsoft since at least July 2006 were also not fixed.

** The vulnerability covered in the MS Publisher bulletin is the 25th Office flaw fixed this year. That's not counting the silently fixed bugs that Microsoft admits it doesn't tell us about. By comparison, for all of 2005, the company only released fixes for five vulnerabilities. As an aside, a quick peek at the flaw credits in the barrage of Office bulletins has conspiracy theorists wondering whether Microsoft's decision to share the Windows source code with China is linked to the uptick of flaw warnings from the Far East.

** While we're counting, McAfee's Monty Ijzerman points out in an e-mail that Microsoft has already patched more critical vulnerabilities this year than they patched in 2004 and 2005 combined.

** Lastly, did Apple deliberately sneak out its critical QuickTime patch to hide behind Microsoft's Patch Day and the media glare of its more sexy iTunes/iTV/iPod announcements? This is a question I've asked before.