Debian attacker may have used new exploit

Robert Brockway robert-5LEc/6Zm6xCUd8a0hrldnti2O/JbrIOy at
Wed Dec 3 14:59:43 UTC 2003

On Wed, 3 Dec 2003, JoeHill wrote:

> Again, facts and reality fly in the face of this argument. Hackers are
> usually, if not always, aware of these vulnerabilities before the
> security "establishment", and certainly before software designers can
> come up with a

Years in the security arena make me disagree with this statement.

Most "Hackers" (I prefer the term Crackers but there you go) are
script-kiddies.  The number of Black Hats (people who are actually serious
crackers in their own right) is, and has always been, very small.  Far
smaller than the security establishment.

Most exploits discovered these days are found by those who launch a
concerted effort to detect them.  By sheer number and amount of effort
most of the people who discover exploits are in the security establishment
and are not Black Hats.

I, along with most security professionals, maintain that the
vendors/developers are better off receiving some amount of warning before
the exploit goes public.  This period can be quite short: 2-4 weeks is
fine. Lists like Bugtraq now have specified grace periods that a vendor
should have to fix a problem. If they haven't patched after this period,
then it is time enough to release the exploit to the world.  The problem
with this is approach is that while it definately speeds up lazy vendors
it creates a race condition: Will the bad guys get to a working exploit
before the good guys get a fix out.

The reality is the idea of providing vendors a grace period before
releasing info on a vulnerability/exploit has been working well for many
years and we have all benefitted from it.  Most exploits fixed in this way
don't get the media attention of ones released on an unsuspecting world so
the hard work of many security professionals goes unacknowledged (how
typical :)

> patch. Full public disclosure is one way to give the vast majority of users a

Not true.  The vast majority of users can't fix the problem for
themselves.  They are reliant on a vendor (using the term generically here
to include OSS development teams) and the public disclosure has just put
the vendor at odds with Black Hats who now know about the exploit.

Immediate public disclosure just creates a situation where bad buys & good
guys are working on the exploit at the same time, instead of providing the
vendor with a head start to getting a fix.

> head start, before a patch can even be issued, so that they can at least be
> aware of the risk. In fact, following this logic, it could be proposed that

Most exploits have few or no ways of mitigating risk without taking down
services/servers so knowledge of the risk without viable means to protect
against it is only of limited use (trust me I've been there :)  It does
keep you up at night watching firewall and IDS logs though.

> disclosure be even *more* widespread, as soon and as widely as possible.
> Security issues are not solved by a patch, they are mitigated by awareness.

Software vulnerabilities are normally fixed by patches but I'll agree that
security overall is more a function of awareness.  I think this sentence
mixes up too different concepts (specific security issues vs security
procedures and knowledge).

> Finally, there is no way to develop an enforceable "policy" in this

Do you follow Bugtraq?  The policy of advising a vendor first is not
formally enforceable but it works anyway.  Peer pressure can be a positive
force in some instances.

Well, there's my position.  I won't be replying to this thread again
unless interesting new material is added.  I find all too often that
people will follow up, just repeating (or slightly varying from) what has
already been said and the arguments go round and round.  As far as I'm
concerned Joe and I have differing opinions and have both expressed them
now.  I won't waste time following up if I'm only going to be repeating
what I've already said.


Robert Brockway B.Sc. email: robert-5LEc/6Zm6xCUd8a0hrldnti2O/JbrIOy at, zzbrock at
Linux counter project ID #16440 (
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