/sep 18, 2019

Security and Development Agree, Coordinated Disclosures Are a Public Service

By Laura Paine

Shifting security left so that security testing becomes an integrated part of the development process helps companies improve software security. With software running our world, it is important to empower developers with the tools and processes they need to make security a part of their overall development process. Yet, even with a robust AppSec program that makes security a part of the development process, new vulnerabilities are found all the time. Companies need ways to find vulnerabilities once software is released. That’s where coordinated disclosure policies come into play.

Coordinated disclosure policies allow security researchers to work with an organization to help them improve the security of their software. The conversation around vulnerability disclosure has become more nuanced over the past several years. What was once a topic that would spur intense debate is now one that invites discussion on strategy and best practices. Organizations as conservative as federal and state agencies are exploring the need for coordinated disclosure processes.

Veracode recently commissioned a report with 451 Group to explore the attitudes and perceptions around coordinated disclosure. Our intent in commissioning this research was to establish a current view of perceptions around coordinated vulnerability disclosure and to define a set of clear recommendations that help businesses progressively deliver on the objective of developing software that is secure from the start.

The report showed that 90 percent of security and development professionals believe coordinated disclosure serves a public good. This same report also found that one-third of organizations received an unsolicited vulnerability alert in the past 12 months – and that 90 percent of these were done in a coordinated manner, in which the independent security researcher worked with the company to fix the vulnerability.

As Chris Wysopal, Veracode CTO, commented on the report:

“The alignment that the study reveals is very positive,” said Veracode Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Chris Wysopal. “The challenge, however, is that vulnerability disclosure policies are wildly inconsistent. If researchers are unsure how to proceed when they find a vulnerability it leaves organizations exposed to security threats giving criminals a chance to exploit these vulnerabilities. Today, we have both tools and processes to find and reduce bugs in software during the development process. But even with these tools, new vulnerabilities are found every day. A strong disclosure policy is a necessary part of an organization’s security strategy and allows researchers to work with an organization to reduce its exposure. A good vulnerability disclosure policy will have established procedures to work with outside security researchers, set expectations on fix timelines and outcomes, and test for defects and fix software before it is shipped.”

Past perceptions around independent security researchers were that they were motivated by money from bug bounty programs or would blackmail a company into paying them for the vulnerability information. This study showed that this perception is far from the truth. Only 18 percent of security researchers expect to be paid for finding a vulnerability, and only 16 percent expect some sort of recognition. Conversely, 37 percent expect information validating the fix – suggesting independent researchers are more interested in creating more secure software than notoriety or financial gain.

The good news is most companies today have an established process for working with independent security researchers. When coordinated disclosure programs become part of an overall software security strategy along with a DevSecOps program that integrates security testing right into the development process, we all benefit from the software powering our world being more secure.

See highlights from the report’s findings in the infographic below.


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By Laura Paine

Laura Paine is a senior product marketing manager at Veracode, based in Burlington, MA.