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Google Proposes More Transparent Vulnerability Management Practices

New Google paper calls for increased transparency from vendors regarding their vulnerability management practices.

Google today published a white paper calling on vendors to provide more transparency into their vulnerability management practices.

A longtime supporter of collaboration on bug disclosure and patching, the internet giant believes that the endless ‘doom loop’ of vulnerability patching is exhausting defenders and users. In addition, the tools created in response to novel attack trends do not seem to help in improving the situation. 

Breaking this loop, Google says, requires a focus on the fundamentals of secure software development, on adopting best practices for patching, and on ensuring that patching is easy and secure from the start. For that, vendors need to understand the root cause of vulnerabilities and to apply complete fixes.

“Prioritizing root cause analysis will enable industry, government, and end users to start rising above the exhausting hamster wheel of vulnerability responses,” the company says.

Vulnerabilities, Google says, pose great risks not only as zero-days, but also if they remain unpatched, weakening both enterprise and end-user security posture. Frequency of patching, automated patching, and how fixes are delivered (as standalone patches or part of system updates) should be a focus for all vendors, the company suggests.

“While the notoriety of zero-day vulnerabilities typically makes headlines, risks remain even after they’re known and fixed, which is the real story. Those risks span everything from lag time in OEM adoption, patch testing pain points, end user update issues and more,” Google says.

With many of the exploited zero-day vulnerabilities identified in 2022 being variants of previously patched security defects, as result of incomplete fixes, Google also calls for increased attention from vendors to ensure that risks are comprehensively addressed.

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Furthermore, the company’s paper underlines that the industry should invest in making patch testing and implementation easier for customers, otherwise enterprises might fall behind in adopting fixes that are difficult to apply. More holistic policies to address product lifecycles should also be adopted.

“Products should come with policies about expected lifetime (including expiration dates), and support and notification models for downstream customers,” Google notes.

In today’s paper, the internet giant mentions the creation of the Hacking Policy Council, a group of organizations and leaders determined to improve user security, as a first step in advocating best practices for vulnerability management and disclosure.

The paper also calls for vendors and governments to be more transparent regarding vulnerability exploitation and patching, to support the development of ecosystem-wide mitigations, especially since there are vendors that quietly release security fixes, without warning the community of the identified flaw.

“Vendors should make users, supply chain partners, and the community aware of the exploitation and notify victims in a timely manner through public disclosure and direct outreach where possible. […] Additional details of vulnerabilities and exploits should be shared to improve researcher knowledge and defenses,” Google advocates.

Increased transparency, the internet giant says, will ensure users apply mitigations faster and “will help industry and policymakers understand the scope of the challenge and whether the industry is truly improving in this area.” New policies, however, should not force organizations to over-report events and should be evaluated against their impact on security.

According to Google, better supporting bug hunters is another key point in advancing the ecosystem, through legal frameworks that distinguish between research for defensive purposes and malicious activities but do not compel researchers to inform governments of identified flaws before notifying the vendor.

“We believe anyone, regardless of background, should be able to contribute to vulnerability research. Ultimately, vulnerability reports are information, organizations should not limit their ability to receive useful information from the community,” Google says.

Today, the internet giant announced that it is offering seed funding for the Security Research Legal Defense Fund, a fund meant to protect good-faith security researchers who face legal threats but who do not have access to legal counsel.

“Making progress on these issues requires cooperation among stakeholders including industry, who develop the platforms and services that attackers seek to exploit; researchers, who not only find vulnerabilities but identify and drive mitigations that can close off entire avenues of attack; users, who unfortunately still bear too high of a burden of security; and governments, who create incentive structures that shape the behavior of all these other actors,” Google says.

Related: CISA Announces Vulnerability Disclosure Policy Platform

Related: UK’s NCSC Publishes Guide to Implementing a Vulnerability Disclosure Process

Related: Zero-day Vulnerability Highlights the Responsible Disclosure Dilemma

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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