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2013-02-23 Vulnerability Management Is Just An Approximation

Everybody needs a hacker

Software Vulnerability Management Is Just A Huge Approximation

Approximation is a representation of something that is not exact. To be extremely exact vulnerability management is not even a mathematical approximation like we know it for Pi value. But from where this utterly huge approximation is coming from? The first origin is the inner definition of "vulnerability management". If you look at various definitions like the one from Wikipedia or some information security standards, you have something like "it's a process identifying → classifying → remediation → mitigation of software vulnerabilities". Many information security vendors might told that is an easy problem but you can ask yourself if this is an easy problem why so many organizations are still compromised with software vulnerabilities.

In my pragmatic eyes, it's very broad, so broad that a first reaction is to split the problems into parts that you can solve. If we just look at the initial step to identify software vulnerabilities.

To solve this problem, the first part is to discover, know and understand the software vulnerabilities. Everyone is discovering vulnerabilities everyday (just look at how many bug reports are going into the Linux Kernel bug tracking software) and very often when you report a bug, you don't even know if this is a software vulnerability. The worst part is that an organization (or an individual) doesn't exactly know what software they are running. If someone is telling you that they have a "software vulnerability management" software that is able to detect all the software running on a system, it's a lie. If such software would exist, you would have the perfect software that would be able to solve the virus detection issue while solving the Turing's halting problem. Just look at a simple software appliance and the set of software required to run the appliance.

Discovering vulnerabilities might be easy but it's difficult to be exhaustive. Even if a vulnerability is found, there is a market to limit their publications (like zero-day vulnerability market). For a named software, there is might be a large set of unknown vulnerabilities (I'm tempted to talk about Java but I think every software might fall into that category). Does this mean that you should give up? I don't think so. You must work on your vulnerability management but don't trust blindly solutions that claim to solve such issue.

Finally, my post is not a bashing post as it was an opportunity for me to talk about a side project I'm working to ease collecting and classifying Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE). The project is called cve-search and it's not a complete vulnerability management just a small tool to solve partially the identification and the classification part.

“When he time comes to leave, just walk away quietly and don't make any fuss.”– Banksy