In the world of vulnerabilities, researchers walk a thin line between responsible disclosure and endangering millions of users by documenting a zero-day and the accompanying proof-of-concept code. Thatâ€™s what happened to researcher Kurt Grutzmacher, who was about to detail some security vulnerabilities in network equipment from Huawei and H3C at this weekend’s Toorcon 14 security conference.
According to a blog post on the researcherâ€™s web site, HP â€“ who now owns router maker H3C â€“ asked him not to detail the discovered buffer overflow flaws in the networking gear.Â He then was asked for a 45-day non-disclosure period in which the company should be able to fix whatever was left unpatched.
â€œI received a very cordial and apologetic voicemail and e-mail from the HP Software Security Response Team asking me not to present this Saturday. The vulnerabilities are apparently too big for them to be ready,â€ wrote Grutzmacher in the blog post. â€œI had clearly stated back in September my intention to provide mitigation techniques so that their customers would not be left in the dark after the presentation was done. I’m not a bad person, really. Honest!â€
Although vulnerability research information is usually handled responsively and rapidly shared with vendors, the latter usually delay the release of a fix because of insufficient development resources to investigate and fix the flaws.
â€œI’m guessing somebody woke up on Tuesday morning and went â€˜Oh hell, is Toorcon this Saturday?â€™ but you can speculate as you see fit. I can’t stop you.â€
Ironically enough, HP has a division that deals with vulnerability disclosure: the Zero Day Initiative (ZDI). As per the policy, the ZDI keeps the lid on the disclosed vulnerabilities for six months, including the bugs that affect the networking gear mentioned above. However, HP seems to have done nothing to mitigate the attack.
Public disclosure is not always irresponsibly used by security researchers. It is sometimes their last resort to force the company to release a fix for a bug that is potentially dangerous for millions of users. However, if published, cyber-crooks may get a window of opportunity to exploit the flaw in the wild.