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ZDNet: Bug secrecy vs. full disclosure (Bruce Schneier)

Nov 13, 2001, 22:09 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bruce Schneier)

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"That's the debate in a nutshell: Is the benefit of publicizing an attack worth the increased threat of the enemy learning about it? Should we reduce the Window of Exposure by trying to limit knowledge of the vulnerability, or by publishing the vulnerability to force vendors to fix it as quickly as possible?

What we've learned during the past eight or so years is that full disclosure helps much more than it hurts. Since full disclosure has become the norm, the computer industry has transformed itself from a group of companies that ignores security and belittles vulnerabilities into one that fixes vulnerabilities as quickly as possible. A few companies are even going further, and taking security seriously enough to attempt to build quality software from the beginning: to fix vulnerabilities before the product is released. And far fewer problems are showing up first in the hacker underground, attacking people with absolutely no warning. It used to be that vulnerability information was only available to a select few: security researchers and hackers who were connected enough in their respective communities. Now it is available to everyone.

This democratization is important. If a known vulnerability exists and you don't know about it, then you're making security decisions with substandard data. Word will eventually get out -- the Window of Exposure will grow -- but you have no control, or knowledge, of when or how. All you can do is hope that the bad guys don't find out before the good guys fix the problem. Full disclosure means that everyone gets the information at the same time, and everyone can act on it."

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