Group to examine security-flaw reporting policies

A number of software vendors and security firms are teaming up to discuss reporting strategies for security flaws, balancing the right of users to know whether their software is flawed against the possibility that publicizing vulnerabilities may encourage hackers.

The Organization for Internet Safety (OIS) will work to develop a system that will set standards for the way security vulnerabilities are disclosed, it said in a release Thursday. Generally, security companies and independent security researchers who discover software bugs inform the vendor of the discovery, and give it some time to develop a patch for the flaw before releasing the information publically.

However, this is not always the case, and security vulnerabilities have made their way into the public before the vendor had a chance to examine the bug, or determine its importance.

"We're trying to give some guidelines for what constitutes professional behavior," said Scott Blake, chairman of the communications committee for OIS and vice president of information security for Bindview Corp., one of the charter members.

In response to customer demands for more security in their software, vendors are more concerned with securing their software than ever before. But software is getting more complicated, which presents challenges in securing that code, Blake said.

"Software engineering as a science is in its infancy. We're building more complicated software, and that's an anathema to security," he said.

An advisory board of network security managers will help the OIS realize the needs and concerns of IT departments when reporting security vulnerabilities, it said. Drafts of potential standards will be circulated in early 2003, the organization said. Each member organization will have an equal vote in proposed standards, Blake said.

A final set of standards probably won't appear for some time, however, as there will be several chances for the public to comment on the proposed standards, Blake said.

The initial companies behind the effort are @stake Inc., Bindview Corp., Caldera International Inc., Foundstone Inc., Guardent Inc., Internet Security Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., Network Associates Inc., Oracle Corp., Silicon Graphics Inc., and Symantec Corp.

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