Security Experts:

Security Explorations Launches New Research Program

After 10 years of conducting complex research often without expecting any monetary rewards, Poland-based Security Explorations has now decided to launch a commercial offering that gives organizations the chance to gain exclusive or non-exclusive access to the company’s most interesting and unique projects.

Security Explorations is known for conducting in-depth research into digital satellite platforms, Nokia phones, and Java, including Java SE, Oracle Java Cloud Service and the Java VM in Oracle Database, Apple Quicktime for Java, and Google App Engine for Java. The firm’s findings - a total of more than 200 vulnerabilities - were reported to the respective vendors and in many cases made public.

Google did award the company $100,000 following the discovery of more than 30 vulnerabilities in the search giant’s App Engine product. However, Security Explorations said most of its research so far was done pro bono in an effort to raise awareness of flaws that put both users and vendors at risk.

In addition to its on-demand security analysis service, Security Explorations has now decided to launch a Security Research Program (SRP) that allows organizations to obtain access to the results of complex and unique research conducted by the company.Security Explorations launches Security Research Program

The first research offered through the SRP targets digital video broadcasting (DVB) devices from STMicroelectronics. The vendor’s products were analyzed several years ago as part of Security Explorations’ analysis of digital satellite TV platforms. Security Explorations believes STMicroelectronics, which exited the set-top box business two years ago, and other vendors have done little to address vulnerabilities, leaving devices at risk of attacks and failing to prevent premium TV piracy.

According to Security Explorations, its research into STMicroelectronics chipsets can be useful to other companies in this industry as it can help them identify the presence of vulnerabilities, develop patches, and conduct further security research.

Companies interested in Security Explorations research offered via the SRP can opt for an exclusive purchase (EP) and become the owner of the research material - the information will not be provided to anyone else from that point on - or they can choose the access only (AO) option and obtain a copy of the materials. Both options provide access to research reports, proof-of-concept (PoC) code, and tools, and Security Explorations is prepared to provide clarifications if needed, but the offer does not include ongoing support.

In the case of the STMicroelectronics research, pricing for the AO option is 50,000 EUR (roughly 62,000 USD). Information on pricing for exclusive purchases is only provided under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

“Each material released as part of our SRP program is separately priced,” Adam Gowdiak, CEO and founder of Security Explorations, told SecurityWeek. “The final price depends on the complexity of the research process and the amount of hours dedicated by Security Explorations to complete it. The impact of discovered vulnerabilities is also taken into account.”

“For our first material, the SRP AO price is less than the offers we have received for reverse engineering work of some PayTV solutions. The SRP EP price is set to be a fraction of the costs of replacing vulnerable ST chipsets / STB devices still deployed to the market,” Gowdiak added. “In general, SRP AO will be below the costs of conducting a given research (it should be always more attractive to purchase access to SRP material than to engage its own resources / achieve given research results on its own).”

Gowdiak says his company is currently working on two undisclosed projects, one of which will be released to the public for free, while the other one will be offered through the new program. He says the goal of the new offering is to help fund the firm’s non-commercial research.

Security Explorations will typically pick its research targets and once the analysis has been completed the company will announce it on its website and reach out to potentially interested parties. The vendor whose products have been analyzed can acquire exclusive rights to the materials to ensure that it cannot fall into the wrong hands, it can acquire access to the research, or ignore the report and instead work on improving the security of its products on its own.

“While the latter does not warrant that vulnerabilities or exploitation techniques targeted by SRP get found or remediated, the net effect should be always positive: a vendor putting additional resources into security, new weaknesses being discovered and fixed, flawed products being recalled/replaced from the market,” Security Explorations said.

Gowdiak has described the new offering as an alternative to bug bounty programs and security evaluations - with some significant differences.

“For Bug Bounties, a researcher decides about a target, a vendor decides about a reward (if any). For a consulting work, a customer decides about a target, a provider decides about a price for security evaluation services. For SRP, we decide both about a target and a price for our work,” Gowdiak explained.

The advantages of this approach for the company conducting the research include not being “the vendor’s hostage for consulting gigs and bug bounties,” which results in unbiased and independent research, and eliminating the issues that can arise during the disclosure process, Gowdiak said.

Security Explorations has reserved the right to deny access to any organization to its research, but the company has admitted that it has no way of enforcing its license terms and ensuring that its findings are not abused.

view counter
Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.