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Java vulnerability and ir/responsible disclosure

September 1, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

There are two forms of irresponsible disclosure that are illustrated by the last week in Java world. The first is to rush to full public disclosure as soon as a new vulnerability is discovered or a new exploit developed without giving the vendor any time to fix it. The second is to refuse to disclose until after the vendor has produced a patch. Google’s approach – to give the vendor 30 days to fix the vulnerability before it is made public is responsible disclosure. But I don’t want to defend Google, I want to nail the idea that it is somehow responsible to stay shtum until the fault is officially patched.

Last week a new Java 0-day exploit was made public and went ballistic. The problem is that Oracle knew about the problem from 2 April at the latest: it was a known 0-day vulnerability that Oracle then ignored. Oracle ignored it in its first round of quarterly patches, so the earliest it could fix it would be 16 October (or they could just ignore it again).

An exploit for this vulnerability went public last weekend and was rapidly added to and used by the Blackhole exploit kit – making the internet an even more dangerous place for Java users. But we know that an exploit was active in the wild before it became public knowledge because both Kaspersky and Symantec have said so. What we don’t know is how extensively nor for how long it had been in the wild.

So what we have is an actively exploited 0-day vulnerability that the vendor knew about but had no plans to patch for at least another six weeks – or put another way had already ignored for almost five months. That is unacceptable.

But then the vulnerability was publicly disclosed and shame was heaped upon Oracle. And in just a couple of days it was fixed. This would never have happened without full public disclosure.

So just as giving a vendor no time to fix a vulnerability is irresponsible, so is it even more irresponsible to give that vendor a blank rain check. Oracle and Java prove this – so next time a security researcher publicly discloses a 0-day exploit, don’t condemn the action – it may just save you a whole lot of grief.

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