Bug reporting standard proposal pulled from IETF

The authors of proposed standards on reporting software security holes have withdrawn the document from the Internet’s main standards-setting body, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The proposal was intended to help settle disagreements between software vendors and security experts over how software bugs should be disclosed to the public and fixed.

Vendors say they must be given enough time to fix a problem before its disclosure alerts hackers to the vulnerability. Security researchers, on the other hand, want to get the information to users as soon as possible to pressure software makers to come up with a patch.

Among other things, the proposal would give vendors 30 days to resolve the vulnerability, but would also allow them to request extensions.

The authors withdrew the proposal from the IETF because there was no consensus among IETF members on the need for such a document, regardless of the methods proposed to handle the disclosure and repair of security vulnerabilities, according to the IETF and the authors, Steve Christey, lead information security engineer at Mitre Corp. in Bedford, Mass., and Chris Wysopal, director of research and development at digital security firm @Stake Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

“This is just too controversial a document,” said Russ Cooper, a moderator of the popular Windows NTBugtraq mailing list and an analyst at TruSecure Corp., a Herndon, Va.-based security firm.

In addition, IETF members were not pleased that the document, called the Responsible Vulnerability Disclosure Process, was submitted without getting input from the IETF beforehand. The IETF also maintained that the researchers didn’t have enough comment from interested parties outside the organization.

“They didn’t want input,” said Jeffrey Schiller, area director for security at the IETF. “We’re open to input. We’re not a rubber stamp.”

Christey said he and Wysopal consulted 10 individuals and organizations that were involved in security issues, including Microsoft Corp., while preparing their proposal. He said they planned to consult with the IETF’s security area directors before submitting their document to the group, but the proposal was leaked to the press first. So they decided to submit the proposal to the organization for discussion.

Schiller also claimed that Microsoft was one of the driving forces behind the document. He said the software maker was trying to protect its interests by proposing a reporting policy that both vendors and security experts would accept, resulting in a document that would be a “happy medium,” he said.

A Microsoft spokeswoman, while not commenting on the proposal, confirmed that the company supports the need for a common language that security experts and vendors can use to discuss security vulnerabilities.

While acknowledging that Microsoft was involved in helping to craft their proposal, Christey said he and Wysopal were the primary forces behind it. The authors plan to pursue other avenues for discussion of their document.