Vulnerability Disclosure: Policy Guidelines and Process

Shivam Jha

Shivam Jha

Jun 06, 2023

Vulnerability Disclosure

Cybersecurity in today’s world is a crucial component for any business that has to do with digital and data assets. When a security risk is encountered in software or hardware, it becomes important for the vendor and, sometimes, the public to know about it. 

However, the process of encountering a vulnerability and disclosing it to the vendor or public is a complicated task, and it involves many parties, such as security researchers, vendors, and end-users. 

In this article, we will take a dive into the intricacies of vulnerability disclosure and learn about the policy guidelines surrounding it. 

What is vulnerability disclosure?

Vulnerability disclosure is a policy that businesses and people follow when it comes to disclosing or publicizing details about security flaws and exploits affecting software, networks, and computer systems. 

It comes into effect because ethical hackers and computer security professionals feel that it is their social responsibility to inform the public about vulnerabilities that may affect them; otherwise, silence could give people a false sense of security and encourage complacency, which would expose them to additional risks.

It is essential to make sure that software or hardware vendors can fix vulnerabilities before malicious actors discover and exploit them.

Alongside vulnerability disclosure, organizations also focus on other security-strengthening approaches such as getting compliant with industry-specific regulations like HIPAA, SOC2, PCI DSS, and others.

As part of an organization’s vulnerability management approach, bug bounties, or vulnerability rewards programmes, which pay researchers to discover holes, are frequently launched alongside internal code audits and penetration tests.

What are the types of vulnerability disclosure?

The type of disclosure that a company chooses is totally dependent on the level of engagement they want to have with the security and research community. 

With that being said, here are the different types of disclosure policies:

Full disclosure

The most open sort of VDP is a full disclosure policy, in which the business makes the vulnerability’s technical details and proof-of-concept code publicly available. By displaying a dedication to accountability and transparency, this kind of regulation can aid in fostering confidence among members of the security research community.

Responsible disclosure

Vendors and researchers have long employed the concept of responsible disclosure. Researchers notify vendors about the vulnerability and give them reasonable deadlines to look into and fix it as part of a responsible disclosure methodology.

Once vulnerabilities have been patched, they then make them public. Vendors typically have 60 to 120 business days under responsible disclosure standards to patch a vulnerability. Vendors and researchers frequently agree to change the schedule to give additional time to address challenging problems.

Coordinated vulnerability disclosure

Under CVD, researchers and vendors collaborate to find and remedy the flaws, and they agree on a window of time for patching the product and notifying the public. Researchers may also choose to reveal information to a private third-party provider who collaborates with the vendor or to a U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), which reports to the vendor in confidence.

Third-party disclosure

When the parties revealing the vulnerabilities are not the owners of the hardware, software, systems, authors, or rights holders, it is known as a third-party disclosure.

The manufacturers receive notice of the vulnerability from security researchers, who often publish third-party reports. A CERT could also be involved in these disclosures.

Vendor disclosure

Vendor disclosures happen when researchers solely notify the application vendors of vulnerabilities, who subsequently create patches.

Self-disclosure

Self-disclosures happen when the creators learn about the vulnerabilities and make them known to the public, frequently with the release of patches or other solutions.

These are the types of vulnerability disclosures. Let’s now see what guidelines are set for the vulnerability disclosure policy.

Also, check out: The best vulnerability scanning tools

What are vulnerability disclosure policy guidelines?

A vulnerability disclosure policy (VDP) is a set of rules and procedures for reporting, managing, and exposing security flaws in software and computer systems. 

The main objective of this policy is once you’ve established that a vulnerability exists or encounter any sensitive data (including personally identifiable information, financial information, or proprietary information or trade secrets of any party), you must stop your test, notify the organization, and not disclose this data to anyone else.

Here are some essential components that are frequently present in a VDP:

Goodwill and encouragement

The introduction section gives background data on the company, including its dedication to security. The purpose and objectives of the policy are described in this section. 

It is an expression of goodwill and encouragement, suggesting that disclosing vulnerabilities could be extremely valuable. The likelihood of a successful cyberattack can be decreased, and vulnerability reporting may even be able to avoid the costs and reputational harm that go along with it.

Safe practice

This section expressly states the organization’s promise not to file a lawsuit over security research projects that make “a good faith” attempt to abide by the policy. It is expressly stated in the authorization and safe harbor that good faith efforts will not give rise to legal action. 

Detailed guidelines

The guidelines also define the limits of the researcher/ethical hackers’ rules of engagement. Guidelines may specifically state that notice should be sent as soon as a potential security issue is found. 

It is customary to advise against using exploits other than to verify a vulnerability. Several vulnerability disclosure standards stipulate that exploits found must not be utilized to compromise data further, establish persistence in other places, or switch platforms.

Scope

The term “scope” gives a very clear understanding of the network systems and properties to which the policy may apply, and the applicable vulnerability categories. Any unapproved testing procedures should also be included in the scope. 

For instance, it is customary for VDPs to forbid DoS or DDoS attacks as well as attacks with a more physical component, like attempting to enter the facility. 

Social engineering, perhaps through phishing, is frequently another prohibited practice. Because circumstances can change, it’s crucial to specify exactly what is and isn’t acceptable.

Recommended: Top Cybersecurity challenges

Process and remediation

The process comprises the tools and techniques researchers/ethical hackers employ to properly report vulnerabilities. 

Instructions on where to send the reports are provided in this section. It also contains the data that the company needs to identify and assess the vulnerability. This could contain the vulnerability’s location, its potential effects, and any technical details needed to locate and replicate the vulnerability. 

Also, it should state when the report will be acknowledged as having been received.

Giving ethical hackers the opportunity to report vulnerabilities anonymously is the best practice. The vulnerability disclosure policy in this situation would exempt the input of identifiable information.

Vulnerability disclosure process

The process of vulnerability differs from organization to organization. However, here is what a typical vulnerability disclosure process looks like:

1. Discovering Vulnerabilities

Finding a potential vulnerability is the first step in the vulnerability disclosure process. This can be accomplished using a variety of techniques, such as human or automated testing, vulnerability scanning, or code analysis.

2. Investigating

After a possible vulnerability is identified, a thorough investigation is usually conducted to ascertain its extent and severity.

3. Communicating with the organization

The researcher will usually notify the company in charge of the impacted software or system after verifying the vulnerability. You can do this in a number of ways, such as through email, web form, or a bug bounty scheme.

4. Internal testing and investigation

After receiving a vulnerability report, an organization will normally reproduce the problem and test any suggested remedies to confirm the vulnerability.

5. Mitigation

The company will work to create and implement a fix for the vulnerability if it has been confirmed. This can entail creating a software patch or making adjustments to the impacted system.

Must read: Risk mitigation strategies

6. Publishing

The company may decide to make information about the vulnerability and the fix available to the public once it has created and implemented a fix for the issue. This can aid in improving the understanding of the vulnerability and the creation of effective mitigations by other organizations and security experts.

How all of it ties together and Sprinto’s role in it

The practice of vulnerability disclosure is crucial in cybersecurity for companies working with digital products. It entails revealing security holes and attacks impacting computer systems, networks, and software. 

A collection of guidelines and processes known as vulnerability disclosure policies (VDPs) govern the reporting, handling, and revealing of security issues.

With that being said, it has become more important than ever to emphasize the security posture of your organization so that you don’t have to deal with external entities finding bugs in your products. 

One great way of avoiding this is to get compliant with different frameworks that are relevant to your organization. Sprinto is a compliance automation platform that helps you achieve this. It gets you compliance-ready within a fraction of the time it takes to do it manually. Let’s show you how it’s done. Speak to our experts today.

FAQ’s

What is vulnerability full disclosure?

When a company fully discloses a vulnerability, the technical information and proof-of-concept code is made available to the public. This form of regulation can help to promote confidence among those working in the security research field by demonstrating a commitment to accountability and transparency.

Why is vulnerability disclosure important?

The whole purpose of vulnerability disclosure as an organization is to show your commitment to the security of the customers. But more than that, it helps you prevent any cyber-attacks that might happen due to vulnerabilities in your system. Also, it gives researchers the chance to report flaws without worrying about legal ramifications, and it gives vendors a chance to show that they care about security and are open to working with researchers to find solutions.

What are the legal implications of vulnerability disclosure?

There are no legal implications of vulnerability disclosure as long as you follow the guidelines of the organization. However, not following the guidelines and going beyond the scope of the disclosure can result in criminal/civil liability on you. 

Shivam Jha

Shivam Jha

Shivam is our in house cybersecurity sage with over six years of experience in cybersecurity under his belt. He is passionate about making the digital world safer for everyone and whipping up Indian delicacies on the weekend.

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